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In Queen Aretha's presence, it's clear why she reigns

NIAGARA FALLS, Ont. -- There is a reason why she's called the Queen of Soul.

Over the years, she has shown us that sisters are doing it for themselves, taught an unforgettable lesson on respect and even promised to say a little prayer for you.

Yet the truth is, you've only experienced half of the nobility that is Aretha Franklin by listening to her records. To truly understand the power of her voice, her personality and the promises she makes in her songs, you must be in her presence.

Friday night, a sold-out crowd at the Avalon Ballroom showed up to do just that. To witness her testimonials of faith and fools. To hear her preach about the power of love. To simply breathe in all that is Aretha.

And, of course, to listen to her be the diva that she is. After admitting she had missed sound check, Franklin didn't hesitate to show her inner superstar's quest for musical perfection, interrupting a few songs to correct the band on their levels. Later, she took time out of the show to turn into a proud mom, as she introduced her son Teddy as one of the lead guitarists.

"He's a graduate of Michigan State," she informed the audience, before doing what can only be described as the Aretha Franklin Michigan State dance.

Yet despite her boasting, Franklin was surprisingly down to earth and funny. She danced and wiggled through several songs, bringing the crowd back to her early days with classics such as "Think," "Don't Play That Song" and, of course, "Respect." She took a successful stab at covering R&B soulstress Alicia Keys' "You Don't Know My Name," which complemented her lower key beautifully. The entire set list was varied with both slow and up-tempo songs, as she transitioned from the sexy, soulful "You Make Me Feel (Like a Natural Woman)" to the sassy "Chain of Fools." It was this impressive versatility that proved why Franklin has earned so much acclaim.

The singer's chatty banter returned later in the show, and when introducing her orchestra, she didn't hesitate to showcase her dry sense of humor.
"They're the best band," she told the crowd. "Since the last band I had. A band who knows how to use their fingers correctly is like having a great sirloin steak. I'd like to thank them for the hot dog they're giving me." Fans loved this divine interaction; it was almost as if the untouchable Franklin was on a level they could relate to.

There was no elaborate stage setup. Instead there was simply a queen, her band and her classics. Ultimately, that was all that was needed.

e-mail: mhirschbeck@buffnews.com

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Aretha Franklin

Friday night in Avalon Ballroom of Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort, Niagara Falls, Ont.

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