Aretha Franklin missed the Grammy Awards, but the Queen of Soul was far from forgotten.
The show’s first 15 minutes were devoted to Franklin, who was taken to hospital last year and has cancelled concerts and personal appearances until May.
LL Cool J reminded audience members of Franklin’s 18 Grammy wins at the start of the show, just before singers Jennifer Hudson, Christina Aguilera, Martina McBride and others performed a rousing medley of some of the music legend’s greatest hits.
“Aretha Franklin is, and always be, the Queen of Soul,” LL Cool J said. “Tonight, she’s the queen of our hearts, too, and the queen of the Grammys.”
The musical tribute opened with Natural Woman, before moving into solos of Respect by Hudson, Think by Florence Welch of Florence + the Machine and Spirit in the Dark by Yolanda Adams.
It was an upbeat start to the show and if there was any doubt about Franklin’s health, she made her first nationally televised appearance in a taped message.
Wearing a white strapless gown, Franklin, 68, appeared to have lost weight, but made clear she had no intention of leaving the music scene anytime soon.
“I wish that I could have been with you all tonight, but since I couldn’t - next year, OK?” Franklin said in the taped message.
Franklin had surgery late last year for an undisclosed ailment.
She was certainly on the minds of fellow artists, including Lenny Kravitz, who credited Franklin’s influence for part of his musical career.
“She’s the queen,” Kravitz said. “She’s it. She’s part of why I do what I do.”