Superstar soulstress Aretha Franklin revisited her first love–jazz–in a surprise performance at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater, September 12. The cameo occurred at a gala held in honor of both the singer and the 25th anniversary of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz.
Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell presented Franklin with the Maria Fisher Founder’s Award for her contributions which help fund the institute’s program for jazz singers. Though Franklin and her well-deserved award took center stage for the night, in her acceptance speech, the artist made sure to highlight the achievements of young artists.
But she wasn’t done yet. The band joined her onstage and Franklin broke into “Moody’s Mood for Love,” paying homage to jazz saxophonist and vocalist, James Moody, who passed away last year.
The annual celebration also included a piano competition,which is hailed as the world’s premier jazz competition and has launched the careers of many aspiring Billie’s, Dizzy’s and Duke’s. This year Kris Bowers, 22, took the $25,000 prize with her version of Monk’s “Shuffle Boil.”
The title is not an easy one to snag- contestants played to an impressive panel of judges, including Herbie Hancock, Ellis Marsalis, Jason Moran, and Danilo Perez. When the curtain closed on the competition, the The Queen of Soul herself sought out young Bowers to suggest a later collaboration.
The evening was co-hosted by Thelonious Monk, Jr., Phylicia Rashad, and Billy Dee Williams. All proceeds from the gala will support public school jazz programs in Washington, D.C. and across the nation- hopefully to help create the next Queen of Soul!