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Gladys Knight, a friend of the late singer-songwriter, led the tribute, inspired by Franklin’s gospel roots and her 1972 album, Amazing Grace.
Franklin died of advanced pancreatic cancer in August at age 76.
Knight, alongside Ledisi, Mary Mary, Donnie McClurkin and CeCe Winans, performed a medley of energetic spirituals, bringing the audience to its feet.
“It’s a blessing to be a part of this moving musical tribute to honor our late queen and sister, Aretha,” said Knight, who also performed “You’ll Never Walk Alone” at Franklin’s funeral. “She was an icon and visionary, radiated light and love through all of her life’s work, and touched all of us through her incredible gift of music.”
Knight began the tribute with a rendition of “Amazing Grace” before she introduced McClurkin, who raised the tempo with “Climbing Higher Mountains.”
Winans then led the crowd in the hymn “Mary Don’t You Weep (Pharaoh’s Army),” backed by a gospel choir. She was then joined on stage by Ledisi, who sang “How I Got Over,” bringing many audience members into the aisles to dance.
Gospel duo Mary Mary, led by sisters Erica and Tina Atkins, closed the memorial performance with the traditional gospel “Let Us All Go Back.”
Emmy-winning producer and music director Rickey Minor served as consulting producer for the tribute.
“We love you, Aretha,” said host Tracee Ellis Ross before drawing the program to a close.
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Tracee Ellis Ross