Elton John was in tears when he watched Aretha Franklin perform at his Elton John AIDS Foundation last year (17), because he had a feeling he’d be watching her sing for the last time.
Elton, The Rocket Man staged the 2018 foundation gala in New York City on Monday night (05Nov18), and recalled the Queen of Soul’s gig, revealing he and Sheryl Crow were sobbing.
“She was so sick,” Elton tells InStyle. “We went to see her before the show and she was so frail. She was supposed to do it the year before, and I said, ‘Are you OK?’ and she said, ‘I can’t let you down again’.”
And Aretha was amazing: “She was, I think, really inspired by the situation – that it was in a cathedral (St. John the Divine). She came onstage and she just got better and better and better as the evening wore on.
“I was with Sheryl Crow and Rosanne Cash, and we were crying, because I didn’t think she’d ever perform again – she was that frail. But boy, did she perform, and what an honour. It was one of the greatest nights of my life.”
Franklin lost her battle with cancer in August, and Elton was among the first to pay his respects, tweeting: “The loss of @ArethaFranklin is a blow for everybody who loves real music: Music from the heart, the soul and the Church. Her voice was unique, her piano playing underrated -she was one of my favourite pianists.”
Elton, introducing “Border Song” from his self-titled 1970 sophomore album on Friday night (Oct. 12), John told the crowd at Detroit’s Little Caesars Arena about being told by his song publisher that somebody had covered it.
“We asked who. They said Aretha Franklin,” John recalled. “Can you imagine two young writers, white boys from England…We were gobsmacked. In fact, we nearly pissed our pants in sheer delight at the fact the woman we loved so much then and grew to love even more afterward would actually record one of our songs.”
John Pays Respects to Aretha Franklin, Mac Miller at Farewell Tour Opener: Watch
Franklin recorded “Border Song” for her Young, Gifted and Black album in 1972, billing it as “Border Song (Holy Moses).” Franklin’s version hit No. 37 on the Billboard Hot 100, 55 points higher than John’s original recording.