Black History Month – Aretha Franklin and Robinson Center

wjc-arethaTwo days before the Clinton Presidential Center opened, at Robinson Center Music Hall, patrons were warmed by the musical talents of Aretha Franklin.

She shared the Robinson stage with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.  The ASO brough Miss Franklin to town as part of the festivities surrounding the opening of the presidential library.  Long a favorite of the Clintons, Miss Franklin sang at his 1993 inaugural festivities the night before he took the oath of office.

Resplendent in a series of white dresses, Miss Franklin was in top form feeding off the love from the audience.  While backstage she may have been dealing with back and knee issues (which the Culture Vulture saw first hand), when she stepped on to the stage she was giving her all as she rolled through hit after hit from her starry career.  She sang, she played the piano, she entertained!

It was a sold out house and her voice and energy reached the last row of the balcony.

Born in Memphis, she moved to Detroit before age five and grew up singing at church.  After gaining some fame singing gospel songs, at 18 she switched to more secular music.  After initially singing for Columbia Records, she moved to Atlantic Records, later to Arista, and now has her own label.

Among her hits are “Respect,” “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman,” “Chain of Fools,” “Think,” “Share Your love with Me,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “Spanish Harlem,” “Break It to Me Gently,” “Jump to It,” “Get It Right,” and “Freeway of Love.”

Franklin received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1979 and became the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. NARAS awarded her a Grammy Legend Award in 1991, then the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994, the same year she was a Kennedy Center Honoree in 1994.  In 1999, she received the National Medal of Arts from Bill Clinton.  George W. Bush bestowed her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005.  She has 17 Grammy Awards and 14 additional nominations.

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Black History Month – Marian Anderson and Robinson Center

marian-anderson-9184422-1-402Marian Anderson was likely the first African American to perform on the stage of Robinson Auditorium shortly after it opened in 1940.

Born on February 27, 1897, in Philadelphia, much of her singing career was spent performing in concert and recital in major music venues and with famous orchestras throughout the United States and Europe between 1925 and 1965.

In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused permission for Anderson to sing to an integrated audience in Constitution Hall. The incident placed Anderson into the spotlight of the international community on a level unusual for a classical musician.  First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigned her membership in the DAR in protest and arranged for Anderson to perform an open-air concert on Easter Sunday in 1939.   She sang before a crowd of more than 75,000 people and a radio audience in the millions. Two of the pieces she sang in that recital were by Little Rock native Florence Price.

When Anderson performed at Robinson Auditorium in 1940, two pieces by Price were part of that concert as well.

She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963, the Kennedy Center Honors in 1978, and the National Medal of Arts in 1986.  Two years before her 1993 death, she received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.