Following a video looking back at Franklin’s long history with the AMAs, Knight walked out to organs playing before launching into a stirring rendition of “Amazing Grace” that had the entire audience visibly moved and on their feet.
Closing out the show, Knight was then joined by Ledisi, Mary Mary, Donnie McClurkin, CeCe Winans and musical director Rickey Minor, as they paid tribute to Franklin’s gospel roots and her 1972 album, Amazing Grace, which remains the best-selling live gospel album of all time.
Ahead of the show, Knight revealed to AMA pre-show hosts Jessie James Decker and Zach Sang just how blessed she feels to be honoring her childhood friend — an artist who will live on for generations to come.
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“I am so very honored to have known her since we were both little girls,” she said. “The fact that her music has been so pure for all of these years — she touched everybody with her music simply because she chose it with her heart, she didn’t choose anything she didn’t believe.
“I’m the same way in the industry, so we had those things in common, as well,” she added. “She deserves this recognition, this tribute, all of these things for being around for this long.”
Franklin died on Aug. 19 of advance pancreatic cancer of the neuroendocrine type. She was 76.
The icon, who last performed on the AMAs stage in 1986, won six AMAs throughout her career and hosted the awards show in 1976 and 1983.
“When I heard some of the initial ideas for the tribute, I knew without a doubt that this tribute will go down as one of the best in American music,” Sabrina Owens, Franklin’s niece and the executor of her estate, told the Associated Press in September.
“It’s a blessing to be a part of this moving musical tribute to honor our late queen and sister, Aretha. She was an icon and visionary, radiated light and love through all of her life’s work, and touched all of us through her incredible gift of music,” Knight said in a statement when the Franklin tribute was first announced.
Following her death, Franklin was honored in several tributes.
Not only did Kelly Clarkson sing Franklin’s classic “Respect” at the iHeartRadio Festival in Las Vegas recently, but Franklin was also honored in a touching In Memoriam segment during the 2018 Emmy Awards.
In addition, Jennifer Hudson, Ariana Grande, Faith Hill and more gave electrifying renditions of Franklin’s hits at the Detroit funeral on Aug. 31. Stevie Wonder, Shirley Caesar, Chaka Khan, Yolanda Adams, Marvin Sapp and Vanessa Bell Armstrong also performed.
The 2018 American Music Awards are airing live from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Oct. 9 at 8 p.m. ET.
Photo Credit: Entertainment Tonight