In 1998, VH1 launched one of its most memorable franchises: an annual special called Divas that features multiple generations of iconic vocalists singing their hits as well as each other’s on the same stage. Of course, you can’t debut a series called Divas without including Aretha Franklin, who was joined by Mariah Carey, Gloria Estefan, Celine Dion, Shania Twain and Carole King at that year’s festivities.
The concert was stacked with larger-than-life vocal moments from each singer, as the participants took the stage for both solo and duet moments. But the grand finale was a pinnacle moment in pop and soul history. All of the aforementioned women stood beside each other to sing one of Franklin’s most memorable hits, “(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman.” Franklin kicked off the performance as a smiling King, who co-wrote the song with Gerry Goffin, stood beside her. Each of the other divas took turns singing a few lines of the song: Dion, Twain, Estefan, Carey then King riffed and soared next to a singer that directly inspired each one of them.
Even better than the vocal showdown that takes place in the last minute of the song is Franklin’s continuous presence even through each diva’s moment. She casts a strong shadow, adding vocal run responses to each line sung by the other women. Dion, who was first up to follow Franklin, handled the impromptu riff-off with grace, as King pointed out in an interview years later for an A&E special.
“Here we are on a stage of divas and Aretha is, as she would tend to do God bless her, sort of taking over,” King comments. “When Aretha sang the line Celine was supposed to do, Celine just got right up under her and answered her.” When you’re onstage with the Queen, you better bring your A game.