Sam Moore Remembers Aretha Franklin: ‘She Was the Greatest’

I hear people ask, “Who’s gonna be the next queen?” Shut up! Aretha Franklin was the one. She could take a jazz song and make it Aretha. She could take blues and make it Aretha. Puccini’s aria “Nessun Dorma”: She could make it Aretha. There were only two people who could do that — her and Ray Charles.

At the Grammys in 1998, when Pavarotti had a cold and canceled, the producers had an emergency on their hands. They asked: Could she do “Nessun Dorma”? She had been studying opera and she had sung the aria two nights earlier at the MusiCares dinner. That first night, she did it in her key, with her arrangement. But when she was called to fill in for Pavarotti at the Grammys, with almost no rehearsal, she had to do it in his key, with his arrangement. She’d always been great, but this proved she was the greatest.

My wife is still embarrassed by what I did at the MusiCares dinner, but I couldn’t help myself. The woman got up there, started to sing, and the only person I know that could hit that note would have been Pavarotti. Aretha stepped back on that note and popped a button. I jumped up and I cursed, “Goddamn, this bitch can sing!”

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