Jennifer Hudson made a surprise performance in honor of late soul legend Aretha Franklin at Tuesday’s Pulitzer Prize luncheon, which celebrated the 103rd class of awardees at Columbia University’s Low Memorial Library.
In April, the Pulitzer Prize announced that Franklin would receive a posthumous special citation at the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Arts, Drama, and Music “for her indelible contribution to American music and culture for more than five decades.”
Hudson gave a rousing rendition of “Amazing Grace” accompanied by gospel-style backup vocalists and a pianist. The powerful performance was reminiscent of Franklin’s own belt and commanding stage presence.
Hudson’s rendition may have appeared effortless, but she nearly missed the ceremony due to turbulent weather conditions in the Midwest that led to her flight’s cancelation. Determined to pay homage to the Queen of Soul, she braved an all-night, 14-hour road trip from Chicago to New York City and arrived just in time for the end of the ceremony.
Hudson previously honored the iconic vocalist in CBS’ Aretha! A GRAMMY Celebration for the Queen of Soul, which aired this past March, and she’s set to portray Franklin in an upcoming MGM biopic. Franklin died in August 2018 of advanced pancreatic cancer. She was 76.
Franklin’s well-deserved award is a rarely-bestowed honor: she is the recipient of 2019’s only special citation, one of 13 ever issued in the Arts category and one of 43 issued in Pulitzer Prize history since the award’s inception in 1930. She also is the first woman to win the award. Bob Dylan, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, and Duke Ellington have also received the honor.