Jennifer Hudson surprised the crowd to honor Aretha Franklin at Tuesday’s Pulitzer Prize luncheon, honoring the awards’ 103rd class of winners.
Hudson took the stage at Columbia University at the end of the program and closed the show with a musical performance honoring the Queen of Soul.
After honoring victims of gun violence in the afternoon’s program, Pulitzer Prize administrator Dana Canedy introduced Hudson as someone who, “too, has experienced unfathomable loss due to gun violence.”
In 2008, Hudson’s mother, Darnell Donerson, her brother, Jason Hudson, and her 7-year-old nephew, Julian King, were shot to death by her former brother-in-law, William Balfour, in their Chicago home. Balfour was later convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
“Her flight was canceled yesterday and she drove 14 hours to be here today,” Canedy said about Hudson, also mentioning her upcoming starring role in the Aretha Franklin biopic “Respect.”
Hudson, who previously honored Franklin at the singer’s funeral and at a Grammys tribute to the late icon, performed a moving rendition of “Amazing Grace.”
Earlier in the program, Brandie Inez Sutton, a soprano for New York’s Metropolitan Opera, dedicated a performance of Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood,” Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and the spiritual “Hold On” to Franklin. Sutton was joined by musical director Damien Sneed.
In April, the Pulitzer Prizes announced that Franklin would receive a special citation at the 2019 Pulitzer Prizes for Arts, Drama and Music, honoring the legendary singer “for her indelible contribution to American music and culture for more than five decades.”
“Like people and institutions throughout America, since her death, we’ve been reflecting on her life and work and contribution to American music and society, and it was in that spirit we were really honored to be able to do this,” Canedy previously told the Detriot Free Press about the honor.
5/28/19 2:26:39 PM — New York, NY, U.S.A —Surprise guest Jennifer Hudson sings a tribute to Aretha Franklin at the 2019 Pulitzer Prize Awards Ceremony at Columbia University. — Photo by Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY Staff ORG XMIT: RD 138036 PULITZER PRIZE A 5/28/2019 [Via MerlinFTP Drop] (Photo: Robert Deutsch, USAT)
Franklin’s citation was a rare move for the Pulitzers. Only 43 special citations have been granted since 1930, and Franklin became the first woman honored with one. Jazz composer John Coltrane (2007), rock icon Bob Dylan (2008) and country music legend Hank Williams (2010), preceded her.
Franklin died on Aug. 16, 2018 from pancreatic cancer at her home in Detroit.
“Whether it’s “Respect,” or “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” or fill-in-the-blank, people remember the impact of certain Aretha Franklin songs on their lives,” Canedy said. “There are songs that are anthems for women. There are songs that are gospel and jazz influences that move us all. And we felt it was appropriate — indeed important — to honor and celebrate that. And, in that way, the queen lives.”
Other Pulitzer Prize arts honorees included Richard Powers’ “The Overstory” for fiction, “Fairview” by Jackie Sibblies Drury for drama, “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom” by David W. Blight for history, “The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke” by Jeffrey C. Stewart for biography, and “prism” by Ellen Reid for music.
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