Bruce Helps Celebrate The Queen Of Soul – Celebratory Hats

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The gospel according to Aretha Franklin
Concert review by Marjorie Hernandez,
Monday, June 29, 2009

When the Queen of Soul takes you to church, you stand up and listen.

For nearly two and a half hours on Friday at the Hollywood Bowl, the venerated diva of divas, Aretha Franklin, took the audience to church with her soul and gospel roots, commanding the stage like a preacher leading her congregation.

Although it’s been 35 years since Aretha graced the Hollywood Bowl stage, the 17-time Grammy winner performed her mainstay hits such as “Respect” and “Freeway” and songs from her upcoming album set to drop in September.

The robust songstress, wearing a peach gown with a flowing train that was as big as her powerful voice, was escorted onto the stage and opened with her hits “Higher and Higher,” “Baby I Love You” and “Think.”

Many in the audience, however, jumped to their feet when the Queen performed her 1968 hit “Respect” early into the show, aptly backed by her five singers.

Conductor H.B. Barnum led a full orchestra that played Aretha off the stage for a brief intermission as Brazilian dancers took over the entertainment.

The Bowl was suddenly transformed into a Brazilian carnivale as scantily clad female dancers, drummers and men on stilts walked the aisles. While certainly entertaining, (there was a Conga line going), the samba music and dancing seemed disjointed from the deep soul and gospel music that preceded it.

After about 15 minutes, the women in their feathered headdresses walked off the stage to make room for the Queen of Soul and the second half of the show.

This time, Aretha donned a white full-length fur coat and a snug black gown that sparkled with rhinestones.

“I told you I wasn’t playing with Mother Nature tonight,” said the diva as she sashayed to the front of the stage.

The second half of the show took a bluesy turn as Aretha sang “I Remember” and “Today I Sing the Blues,” which left many in the audience speechless as the diva showed off raspy low tones to her signature high octave vocals.

“If you’re not sure how to work it out, try God,” she said to the audience, as she sang “Old Landmark,” while a choir joined her on stage.

While Aretha gave shout-outs to some famous people in the audience like Jesse Jackson, Billie Dee Williams, Judge Greg Mathis, Halle Berry and Angela Bassett, The Queen of Soul asked for a moment of silence for Michael Jackson, who had died the day before in Los Angeles.

“In remembrance of a genius, a very kind and sensitive young man who never gave less than 150 percent,” she said of Jackson. “He’s moved on up, just a bit higher now.”

Aretha and her crew continued to wow the audience with vocal prowess on “It Ain’t No Way,” as backup singer Brenda Corbett belted high notes along with the Queen.

“Freeway,” however, brought the most applause and sent some to dance in the aisles as the song turned into a 15-minute gospel romp. The Queen of Soul closed out her show with “The Greatest Love of All,” and reappeared onstage with the infamous gray felt hat with a prominent huge bow and Swarovski crystals that she wore to President Barack Obama’s inauguration.

Comedian Bruce Vilanch — who brought along 14 of his friends with their own various colorful versions of the hat — was thrilled to see The Queen sport her elaborate headgear.

“I’m stunned and I’m glad she embraced it because she did get a lot of flack for wearing it during the inauguration,” said Vilanch, who wore his own violet version. “She was phenomenal.”

Phenomenal, yes, but you don’t expect less from The Queen of Soul.