As the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin was known for her powerful and moving voice that earned her a place among the best singers of all time. Although her greatest hits include songs such as “Respect,” “I Say a Little Prayer,” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” she once saved the day by performing something completely different than her repertoire—an opera aria. She knocked it out of the park despite the high notes that have made this song known for its difficulty in the opera world.
On February 25, 1998, Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti was scheduled to sing at the Grammy Awards at Radio City Music Hall. The song listed on the program was “Nessun Dorma,” an aria from Puccini's opera Turandot. The tune became a fixture at Pavarotti's live shows after he sung it during the 1990 FIFA World Cup, and would become synonymous with victory, being performed at other World Cup finals and the 2006 Winter Olympics.
Sadly, Pavarotti had to bow out at the last minute, and the showrunners scramble for a last-minute replacement. Since he was listed as the headlining act, the team needed someone just as legendary to fill in. Suddenly, producer Ken Ehrlich had an idea. He had seen Franklin perform the same aria at a MusiCares gala in tribute to her beloved friend Pavarotti just two days earlier, so he knew she would nail it if asked. The Queen of Soul stepped in and brought the house down, getting a standing ovation and giving one of the most legendary moments in Grammy history.
Pavarotti was meant to receive the Grammy Legend Award, which Franklin had received seven years prior. Adding to the epic status of the evening, rock musician Sting was the one in charge of introducing Franklin and announcing the award's recipient. “On behalf of the Recording Academy it gives me great pleasure to present you with this year’s Grammy Living Legend Award in absentia”, said Sting. “I know you’ve promised to be here next year to accept the award. Living is the perfect word for you Luciano, for not only do you possess one of the greatest voices ever, but your spirit and zest for life is singular”.
As for Franklin, just like the lyrics of “Nessun dorma” talk about victory and hope, she emerged glorious after having aced a notoriously intimidating song with her voice and charisma. You can watch the historic performance below.
After Luciano Pavarotti fell ill before his performance at the 1998 Grammys, Aretha Franklin stepped in to sing the notoriously difficult aria “Nessun Dorma.”
Her amazing performance even earned her a standing ovation. Watch this amazing moment below:
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