LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "Queen of Soul" Aretha Franklin added another jewel to her illustrious musical crown on Friday night when she was honored at the annual MusiCares dinner, a Grammy-related event that raises money for musicians in need.
"There may be a debate about who is the president, but there is no debate on who is the queen," said civil rights leader Al Sharpton, one of many luminaries on hand to pay tribute to the 65-year-old Franklin.
The singer, who has garnered 17 Grammy Awards and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a career spanning four decades, will perform this Sunday at the Grammy Awards, where she is also nominated for best gospel performance for a duet with Mary J. Blige.
"Aretha Franklin, you're a true national treasure," said former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who weighed in on Friday in a video message.
Also on hand to celebrate and perform at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Friday were BeBe & CeCe Winans, Fantasia, John Legend, Patti Austen and Herbie Hancock.
Born in Memphis and raised primarily in Detroit, Franklin began singing in a choir helmed by her father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin, first attracting attention at 14, when she recorded a live version of "Precious Lord."
But it was her collaboration with record label executive and producer Jerry Wexler in 1967 that put Franklin on the map, paving the way for her hit album, "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)," which combined her gospel roots with R&B and featured her hit rendition of Otis Redding's "Respect," which was hailed as a social and political anthem.
Thanking her guests and noting that she needed many tissues throughout the evening, Franklin, who is well-known for her fear of flying, joked she might even be ready to be airborne.
"It took 6 days to get here from Detroit. If I ever wanted to fly again, it's now," she said and then took to the stage to belt out her hit, "Chain of Fools."
One of Franklin's most memorable Grammy achievements was during the awards show in 1998, when she was suddenly asked to fill in for an ill Luciano Pavarotti without any rehearsing.
Reporting by Sue Zeidler, Editing by Sandra Maler