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Stephen Colbert bids farewell to Aretha Franklin by shutting up and letting her sing

Aretha Franklin
Screenshot: The Late Show With Stephen Colbert

After Stephen Colbert and bandleader Jon Batiste expressed their sorrow at Thursday’s news that singing legend Aretha Franklin had died, Colbert followed up with the only appropriate tribute—stepping aside and letting the lady sing. Introducing his desk piece with an anecdote about making an ass of himself backstage while hosting the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors, Colbert reminisced about being very, very wrong when confiding to a stagehand, “Man, I wish I could have seen her when she was younger, when she was in full voice.” As if the Queen of Soul—there to sing “(You Make Me Feel) Like A Natural Woman” in tribute to the song’s writer and Kennedy Center honoree Carole King—had overheard a condescending white boy pitying her septuagenarian pipes, Franklin then put on a performance that left present-day Colbert musing, “Boy, am I stupid.”

And we could go on about Franklin’s performance bringing honored guest President Barack Obama to tears, or how the overwhelmed King basically loses her mind during Franklin’s rendition of her song, or how the elderly Franklin pulls a James Brown at the crescendo, shedding her floor-length fur to send one of her signature songs soaring into the rafters. But, following Colbert’s lead, we’re just gonna step aside and let the lady sing.


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Dennis Perkins

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.