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Top 10 Memorable Aretha Franklin Moments

VO: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Nick Miller

The Queen of Soul will be sorely missed. From her first Grammy win, to her performance at the Pope, join WatchMojo as we celebrate Aretha Franklin’s life with the most accomplished and epic moments of her legendary career.


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Script written by Nick Miller

Top 10 Aretha Franklin Moments

Bow down to the Queen of Soul. Welcome to, and today, we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Aretha Franklin moments.

We’ll be looking at the most accomplished and epic moments of her legendary career.

#10: Her First Grammy Win

In 1968, the Grammy Awards created the Best Female R&B Vocal Performance category. That year, Franklin won the inaugural award for her classic hit “Respect,” along with nabbing the award for Best Rhythm and Blues Recording. These were the first of many towering achievements Franklin would receive from the Grammys, coming off the heels of her move from Columbia Records to the larger Atlantic Records, which pushed her further into America’s musical spotlight. The legendary soul diva would actually go on to secure the Best Female R&B Vocal Performance Grammy a whopping eight years in a row, from 1968 to 1975.

#9: VH1 Divas Live

In 1998, VH1 put on its first annual “Divas” live music special. The concert featured performances from many of pop music’s biggest female superstars of the era, with the grand event culminating in an epic performance of “(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman” featuring Aretha Franklin, original songwriter Carole King, Mariah Carey and many others. The song was anchored by the powerful voice of Ms. Franklin throughout, as other singers weaved in and out. The result was a once-in-a-lifetime collaboration that celebrated the talent and influence of Lady Soul, and showcased that she could still outshine the best of them.

#8: Clinton’s Inauguration

The show-stopping “Les Miserables” classic “I Dreamed A Dream” received a stunning rendition when Aretha Franklin performed it at the first inaugural ball for President Bill Clinton in 1993. A longtime Democrat, this wasn’t the first or the last time the Queen lobbied her support behind a major political figure. Though some might argue the song’s lyrics were a little bit of a downer for a presidential inauguration, it’s undeniable that Ms. Franklin’s performance was inspirational, giving off a sense of hope for the future. Few singers in modern history have been as capable at eliciting emotion as Aretha Franklin.

#7: Lifetime Achievement Award

Aretha Franklin joined the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Elvis Presley and Duke Ellington when she was awarded with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994. With 18 wins and 27 nominations over the course of her career, the Queen of Soul was a bonafide Grammy legend. In fact, just three years before she received the Lifetime Achievement Award, the prestigious organization had awarded Ms. Franklin with their now-defunct Legend Award, making her one of the select few winners. The Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award is a major accomplishment that represents the vast contributions Aretha Franklin made to music.

#6: Performing for the Pope

When Pope Francis made a rare visit to the United States in 2015, he made a stop in Philadelphia that included a live music performance by the Queen herself. In a stirring rendition of “Amazing Grace,” Ms. Franklin, accompanied by a soulful organ and eventually a massive chorus, delivered a 9-minute emotional classic in front of the Pope. It’s an affecting performance, showcasing the wide scope of Aretha Franklin’s talent as she takes the song in many different directions. It’s well worth remembering that Franklin was just as important to gospel as she was to popular music.

#5: Opera at the Grammys

When worldwide opera superstar Luciano Pavarotti fell ill and couldn’t perform at the 1998 Grammy Awards as scheduled, it was his friend Aretha Franklin who stepped in at the last moment, surprising many audience members and TV viewers who had no idea she excelled at opera as well. Her performance of "Nessun Dorma" will go down as one of the greatest and most jaw-dropping live performances in the awards show’s history, as the Queen belted out a perfectly epic rendition of the operatic classic that brought some audience members to tears. It remains one of the most memorable moments of a woman whose career was full of them.

#4: Kennedy Center Honors

In 1994, Ms. Franklin became one of the youngest recipients of the highly-prestigious Kennedy Center Honors at the age of 52. The Kennedy Center celebrates contributions to the performing arts, and previous recipients include Cary Grant, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and playwright Arthur Miller, Many of these artists were aproaching or past the twilight of their career when they were honored, so it was a pretty big deal when Aretha Franklin received the honor in the midst of her career, with no end in sight. She also famously performed at the Center in 2015, when she brought then-President Obama to tears.

#3: Obama’s Inauguration

Speaking of President Obama… The Queen of Soul beautifully performed “My Country Tis of Thee” at the President’s first inauguration in January of 2009 in front of the Capitol building. It was an emotional and resonant moment, especially considering the historical importance of America electing its first black president. Aretha’s powerful voice provided a strong beacon of love and hope for both those in attendance and those watching at home. Her performances alway had the incredible ability to inspire optimism and stir emotions in audiences, and Ms. Franklin’s talent was in full display here.

#2: Presidential Medal of Freedom

In 2005, Aretha Franklin was awarded the highest government honor a civilian can receive when she was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush for her cultural contributions to American music. It’s further proof that Franklin was an absolutely unrivaled icon; a diva in the best way possible. Her award ceremony was appropriately emotional, as the Queen teared up when she was described as one of America’s greatest musical artists; a desciption that’s entirely accurate and well-deserved.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.

Thanksgiving 2016 Football National Anthem

"Murphy Brown" Guest Appearance

“Freeway of Love” Returns Aretha to #1

#1: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction

Aretha Franklin became the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. Unfortunately, the Queen of Soul’s car broke down on her way to the ceremony, and she couldn’t even attend! After a bizarre speech by the always-eccentric Keith Richards, the honor was accepted on Aretha’s behalf by record producer Clive Davis and her brother Cecil Franklin. It’s impossible to think of a more deserving woman to receive such a prestigious honor, and it was another groundbreaking moment for Lady Soul.

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