NEW YORK — Aretha Franklin proved her voice is still divine at 69 as she gave a brief but rousing performance at a swank birthday party in her honor.
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Tony Bennett, Smokey Robinson, music mogul Clive Davis, Bette Midler and Gayle King were among the celebrities on hand to pay tribute to the Queen of Soul on Friday night at a late-night birthday party at a Central Park Hotel.
“It’s a fabulous moment,” said Franklin, showing off her noticeably thinner frame in a flowing white and gold gown as she sat at a table with several gifts.
Bennett, who called Franklin “one of a kind” was one of those who came with a present — and his was unique.
“I also paint, so she knows about that,” he said. “A long time ago, she said, ‘I’d love to have you do a painting of me,’ and I remembered that, and when I heard I was coming here, I just knocked off a quick sketch tonight and gave it to her tonight.”
More than 100 friends and family gathered to celebrate Franklin, who just a few months ago underwent surgery for an ailment she has declined to disclose. In recent weeks, she’s made more public appearances and is set to resume her stage performances in May. At the party, Franklin seemed full of energy, greeting guests and dancing to the music.
Franklin wasn’t billed as the evening’s entertainment. Instead, she had other acclaimed musicians on hand to perform for her: jazz musician Roy Ayers, singer Nnenna Freelon, and Tito Puente Jr. all gave mini-concerts at the soiree.
But after former Temptations frontman Dennis Edwards serenaded her with a couple of riveting songs, she joined him and they both sang “The Way We Were.”
Afterward, Edwards and the crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to Franklin, and she cut her birthday cake.
The Detroit native planned to stay in New York for at least a day more, but don’t expect much more celebrating for Franklin.
“I will be in a horizontal position tomorrow, all day!” she said.