A Stirring Salute to the Queen of Soul

56f3ee86-d10e-441f-b90a-42c3d5b03d97-GettyImages-1134086120Any time is a good time for a salute to Aretha Franklin music. But the Queen of Soul did it so well herself, it’s hard to pay tribute and come close.

The music special “Aretha! A Grammy Celebration for the Queen of Soul” (CBS, 9 p.m.) tries its best, but in the end succeeds largely in reminding one how many great songs she put her stamp upon.

For sheer vocal power, Jennifer Hudson stops the show almost as soon as it starts, taped in January at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, with three of the tastiest Franklin hits, “Think,” “Ain’t No Way” and “Respect.”

A couple of other “American Idol” alums also shine with Kelly Clarkson’s “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)” and Fantasia two collaborations — “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me),” with Rob Thomas filling in the George Michael part; and in a finale of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” with Andra Day, Alessia Cara and Brandi Carlile that, with all of its approaches, still can’t quite touch Franklin’s own rendition that brought tears to the eyes of its writer Carole King and President Barack Obama at the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors, when the Queen was 73.

That’s one clip the two hour special doesn’t show (though CBS aired the original). Maybe because the present day artists wouldn’t compare. But there are some swell snippets of Franklin from a variety of TV approaches and just a little from the powerhouse performance at the Temple Missionary Baptist Church in 1972, captured in the documentary “Amazing Grace” that finally receives its nationwide release next month.

Yolanda Adams brings the gospel in the TV special almost single handedly, performing with Common for “Young, Gifted and Black” and in a medley with Shirley Caesar and Bebe Winans.

There’s no doubt that Celine Dion singing “A Change is Gonna Come” is a high point, but the visual of a white French Canadian woman selected to represent the towering song of black inspiration is an odd one.

Some artists decided not to compete with Aretha by re-interpreting her songs which did not work so well on John Legend’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” or the medley from Patti LaBelle.

Surprisingly, many of the youngest performers left the best impression with light touches on H.E.R.’s “I Say a Little Prayer” (recorded back when she was just a Grammy nominee and not a winner for R&B album and performance), SZA’s “Day Dreaming” and Cara’s “Until You Come Back to Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do).”

Alicia Keys and Janelle Monáe were fine, too, with their renditions of “Spirit in the Dark” and “Rock Steady” respectively.

But I’m not sure the sisters Chloe x Halle brought the adequate power to “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves.”

And as just about the only woman outside of her genre to perform, Carlile acquitted herself well with a surprisingly soulful “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man.”

Sisterhood was at least a part of the reason of doing the show, which made it odd to have it hosted by Tyler Perry, whose greatest movie success comes only in playing a woman — one the Queen apparently appreciated, we are told.

But he keeps things moving in a special that keeps its focus on the music, which was marvelous.

Here’s a story I wrote about the show that was in TV Guide.

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