Elton John hosted a gala in New York City on Tuesday to commemorate the 25th anniversary of his AIDS foundation. Luminaries from politics (former President Bill Clinton, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo), pop (Maxwell, Billy Joel), and film (Glenn Close, Alec Baldwin) attended the event, according to the Associated Press, and Aretha Franklin brought the evening to a close with a performance of modern standards from her back catalog.
In a speech at the gala, John suggested that the success of his foundation demonstrates that individuals can bring about change if they choose to do so. “See how the world changes?” he asked the crowd. “It changes. It changes because we make it change. And if we want to make it change in the best way, we can do that. We can do it. I’ve seen it happen on so many occasions. The human spirit is the greatest force of love and good in this world.”
The gala raised $4 million, bringing the foundation’s total fundraising efforts close to $400 million since it began in 1992. According to John, 98% of this money goes towards the fight against AIDS. The singer told the audience that the foundation’s goal was to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030.
Franklin – whom John dubbed “the greatest singer of all time” – closed the gala, vamping softly through “I Say a Little Prayer” accompanied by a full band complete with horns. She engaged in a tender call-and-response with her fearsome backup singers and showed brief, devastating flashes of melisma. The singer recently announced plans for retirement. However, she hopes to open a nightclub in Detroit where she can occasionally perform.