Yeah, I hate clickbait headlines too. But sometimes a moment is captured, and it is so beautiful that watching it actually does something beautiful to you, too. Earlier this month, Aretha Franklin blessed the world with a rendition of “Natural Woman” at the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors that was marvelous, stunning, a force of good. When I talk about the possibility music has to make us into better people, I’m talking about moments like this. But the second layer of watching this performance comes from seeing the woman who co-wrote the song, Carole King, react to hearing her work sculpted and molded by Franklin’s mastery.
King and Gerry Goffin wrote the track (officially titled “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”) in the late sixties, but it’s always been Aretha’s song. What it must mean to be linked together in that way, we’ll never know, but the closest we can get is watching how King gesticulates, stands up, mouths along, cries, covers her mouth, seeks to find a similar spark in those around her, and returns, ecstatic, to gaze upon the majesty of Aretha Franklin. You get the sense too, that for everyone she’s singing to, Aretha is thinking mostly about Carole. After all, she was being honored at the event. President Obama cries, Michelle barely holds onto her own decorum. They both beam magnificent pride.
As if all this wasn’t enough, when Aretha gets to the bridge before that final swelling chorus, she stands up from the piano to sing, and for the last chorus she takes off her goddamn fur coat. It seems the entire audience is moved to standing ovation. I have never seen anything more queenly in my entire life, and I doubt I ever will. What a moment. What a world. I want to take a final line here to claim this song for anyone and everyone on this planet who identifies as a woman. This song is yours, too. Claim it.
Carole has offered a bit more information for us via her Twitter:
If anyone wants to know what I said when I turned away & said something to Sherry, it was, “OMG, she’s playing the piano!!” -Xo.C
— Carole King (@Carole_King) December 30, 2015