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After news broke that Aretha Franklin had died at 76 years old on Thursday, late-night hosts commemorated the soul singer during their shows later in the day.
On The Tonight Show, guest Ariana Grande, playing alongside house band The Roots, opened the show by paying tribute to Franklin. With the band ensemble surrounding her, Grande belted Franklin’s 1967 single “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.”
Fallon also took a moment during his show to pay his respects to Franklin, who he said was a fan. “We loved Aretha. She was a fan of late night back when no one was watching us,” the host said.
Fallon then recalled how the Tonight Show staff had to turn off the air conditioning every time Franklin appeared on the show due to her request. One time, Questlove almost fainted from the heat, Fallon said, and audience members in the top row felt as if it was “115 degrees.”
“And she walks out in a long fur coat,” Fallon reminisced. “She was so funny and so charming and was so nice to our staff top to bottom … I just love her so much and I’m just happy I got to know her for a little bit.”
During her sit-down with Fallon, Grande recalled meeting Franklin and described the singer as “so sweet” and “so cute.” Grande also remembered the moment she “blacked out” when Franklin personally called her on the phone. Grande explained that Franklin asked to send Grande music from her relative, to which Grande told her to text her the MP3. After Franklin told Grande that she didn’t know how to do that, Grande revealed that she went on to receive a package four months later from Franklin with the recording.
On The Late Show, Colbert announced that his house band, Stay Human, would be playing Franklin’s songs exclusively on Thursday’s show.
“But with no vocals, because no one can sing that,” said Stay Human lead Jon Batiste. “Irreplaceable.” After Colbert concurred, calling Franklin’s death “truly heartbreaking,” Batiste added, “There was something in her voice that was so transcendent. She was [singing] in the past, but she was telling our future.”
Baptiste also said that he got to play for Franklin once and he played her a bunch of jazz standards. “She really loved jazz standards,” he said.
Colbert remembered watching her live at the Kennedy Center once: “At the time, I remember just levitating on a cloud of my own tears,” he said. At the end of the show, Colbert played a video of that performance.
Over on ABC, Kimmel addressed Franklin in an interview with Don Cheadle, who earlier in the day had tweeted a personal story about the soul singer. In January 2017, he said, he received a call from Franklin, who had recently seen Miles Ahead, the Miles Davis movie starring Cheadle.
“She had just seen the movie, she was impressed by the movie and I was knocked out,” Cheadle told Kimmel. Later, the two struck up a texting conversation. “She texts like my aunty,” Cheadle joked, noting that she often had all-caps or strange symbols in her messages.
Comedy Central’s The Daily Show posted a “between the scenes” video of Trevor Noah discussing the news, which he called “rough on a lot of people.” The late-night host recalled listening to Franklin’s music while growing up and having a profound love for the soul singer’s tunes. “I used to sing all the songs not really knowing what they meant,” Noah said.
Noah also applauded Franklin for being a trailblazer unafraid to stand up for what she believed in. “She was one of the first people who supported Angela Davis from the Black Panthers and Martin Luther King. And this was during a time when it wasn’t cool to do that. It was risky to you and your livelihood,” Noah said, also praising her firmness on refusing to perform for a segregated crowd.
Noah additionally emphasized that the singer has a class of songs that could be considered “crazy” given how women were treated in society during the time of her music’s release. “The #MeToo movement has shown that we still have a long way to go, but at that time, it was like women just keep quiet and she was up and “R.E.S.P.E.C.T.”
“She’ll be missed … Everything we see today in so many ways in the music, male and female, is because of her. Aretha Franklin, rest in peace. It’s a beautiful, beautiful story,” he said.
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