Watch the Aretha Franklin performance that brought Barack Obama to tears
Aretha Franklin died on Thursday at her home in Detroit at the age of 76. Hailed as the Queen of Soul, the singer was known for her rousing performances — no more apparent than when she took the stage for the 38th Annual Kennedy Center Honors in 2015.
During a tribute to Carole King, one of the evening’s award recipients, Franklin brought down the house with a powerful rendition of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” The tune, which was co-written by King and Gerry Goffin, was first released in 1967 and has long been one of Franklin’s signature tracks.
The number opens with the star, sporting a floor-length fur coat, accompanying herself on the piano as King, then-President Barack Obama, and his wife Michelle look on in awe. Just a few lines into the first verse, Obama can be seen wiping away tears.
But the true moment of wonder comes as Franklin moves to the center of the stage and belts out the song’s ending. As everyone in the crowd jumps to their feet — the first couple and King among them — they sing along passionately before giving her a thunderous standing ovation.
When interviewed for a New Yorker piece on Franklin the following year, Obama opened up about the impact the moment had on him.
“American history wells up when Aretha sings,” he told the publication in 2016. “That’s why, when she sits down at a piano and sings ‘A Natural Woman,’ she can move me to tears — the same way that Ray Charles’ version of ‘America the Beautiful’ will always be in my view the most patriotic piece of music ever performed — because it captures the fullness of the American experience, the view from the bottom as well as the top, the good and the bad, and the possibility of synthesis, reconciliation, transcendence.”
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Following news of Franklin’s passing, Obama echoed the statement — celebrating her life with a heartfelt post on Twitter.
“Aretha helped define the American experience,” he wrote. “In her voice, we could feel our history, all of it and in every shade—our power and our pain, our darkness and our light, our quest for redemption and our hard-won respect. May the Queen of Soul rest in eternal peace.”
King, who recorded her own version of “Natural Woman” in 1971, was also among the many celebrities, who took to social media and expressed their grief over Franklin’s death.
“What a life,” King tweeted. “What a legacy! So much love, respect and gratitude. R.I.P. @ArethaFranklin.”