After Taylor Swift inducted Carole King into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with a performance of “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and a loving speech, the stage turned over to some of King’s indelible songs.
The inductee first introduced Jennifer Hudson, who turned in a powerful performance of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” which King co-wrote with Gerry Goffin. Originally a hit for Aretha Franklin in 1967, the song was a standout of the 2021 Franklin musical biopic Respect, in which Hudson starred. (King and Hudson also co-wrote the original song “Here I Am [Singing My Way Home]” for Respect.)
In her acceptance speech, King specifically pointed out Aretha Franklin as the first woman to be inducted into the Rock Hall, which caused a chills-inducing standing ovation in the arena. That spirit permeated Hudson’s performance: She started the song singing while at the piano, and then grabbed a mic and strode to the front of the stage, which gave her the chance to let loose with a stunning vocal performance.
Hudson unsurprisingly nailed every moment of the song — and then some. She added a gospel tone to her delivery, as well as impressive, vivacious melodic improvisation; the latter served as vocal counterpoint alongside several backing singers. The performance ended up leading up to an astounding crescendo: a high note on the word “natural.” She held the soaring note for multiple beats, amplifying the word’s meaning, before coming down a few notes to sing the word “woman” with reverence.
— Thomas j. Stargell (@T_star94) October 31, 2021
The audience immediately stood up in response, but after the applause died down, Hudson specifically said Franklin inspired her with some sage advice: “Jennifer, always use your voice.” She certainly did on this night.
King, who’s the first woman inducted into the Rock Hall as both a performer and non-performer, then took the stage at the piano and performed “You’ve Got a Friend” with a backing band of ace session musicians: guitarist Danny Kortchmar — who played conga on the original Tapestry version and guitar on the James Taylor take, recorded during the same 1971 sessions — plus bassist Leland Sklar and drummer Russ Kunkel, both of whom also played on the Taylor version. The laid-back full-band performance elevated the intimate, introspective soul at the heart of so much of King’s songwriting. But about halfway through the song, King encouraged the crowd to sing along — turning the song’s message of solace and comfort into an arena-wide singalong.
King is the third woman inducted twice into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, after Stevie Nicks in 2019 and Tina Turner this year. She and her late songwriting partner Goffin — who co-wrote songs such as “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” “The Loco-Motion,” “One Fine Day,” and “Pleasant Valley Sunday” — were inducted together in 1990.
Despite her previous induction, King told Rolling Stone she was surprised to receive the second nod as a performer. “There were so many worthy nominees. I looked over the list and was like, ‘Well, I’m already in as a songwriter. I’ll be OK if I don’t get in. There are so many other people. They should get in.’ And here I am.”
King also praised fellow two-time inductees Nicks and Turner (“I’m in great company, let me just say, with those women”) but was modest about receiving this additional recognition. “To me, there’s no ‘long overdue’ about it,” she told Rolling Stone. “I feel like I’ve had an amazing life and an amazing career and I’m just grateful. If this comes along with it, it’s a pinnacle.”