Last November, Aretha Franklin took the stage at Elton John’s annual AIDS Foundation gala, delivering what would be her final public performance. The Queen of Soul, who died Thursday from pancreatic cancer, closed the show with a selection of songs from her back catalogue, including her 1968 hit, “I Say A Little Prayer.”
Though her vocals exhibited a frail rasp, Franklin nevertheless showcased the incredible range and dynamics that made her the Queen of Soul. Backed by an orchestra and a chorus of full-throated backup singers, Franklin exerted complete control over her rendition of “I Say A Little Prayer,” bringing the track to a stunning close with a series of runs that never faltered.
Elton John remembered the performance on Instagram, writing, “She was obviously unwell, and I wasn’t sure she could perform. But Aretha did, and she raised the roof. She sang and played magnificently, and we all wept. We were witnessing the greatest soul artist of all time.”
In February 2017, Franklin announced her plan to retire from the road, though she later hinted that she would perform sporadically at a Detroit nightclub bearing her name. She went on to schedule a handful of 2018 performances, including a set at the New Orleans Jazz Fest, but she ultimately canceled the gigs on the recommendation of her doctor.