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Flashback: Aretha Franklin Sings a Transcendent ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water” In 1971

“I took it to mainstream radio,” says Art Garfunkel. “Then Aretha so brilliantly brought it back to church”

Without any doubt, Aretha Franklin was one of the greatest live performers in history. It’s impossible to pinpoint her peak moment on a stage, but many fans point to her stand at the Fillmore East in March 1971 that was captured on the LP Aretha Live at Fillmore West as one of the all-time greats. A camera was also rolling on at least one night and you can check out her sublime take on Simon and Garfunkel’s then-recent hit “Bridge Over Troubled Water” right here. She completely reinvents the song, finding the soul and gospel within Simon’s lyrics and melody.

Paul Simon has always ranked it among the greatest covers of his work, even better than Elvis Presley’s famous rendition of the same song. “Aretha’s version is tremendous,” he said. “The best I ever heard except Artie’s.”

In a brand new statement Garfunkel provided to Rolling Stone after Franklin’s death, he agrees. “Paul says he heard the phrase ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ sung as  a Baptist riff,” he says. “I took it to mainstream radio. Then Aretha so brilliantly brought it back to church.” Aretha’s rendition of the song reached Number Six on the Hot 100 in 1971. It remained a key part of her live act until the very end.

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