This year’s Kennedy Center Honors was livelier than it’s been in years, testament to the fresh, thankfully hipper cultural energy engendered by the Obamas in the Big House. It was a lavishly produced, star-filled, briskly paced, consummately entertaining show that paid tribute to Dave Brubeck, Mel Brooks, Robert DeNiro, Bruce Springsteen and the great opera singer Grace Bumbry (born in St, Louis, MO), who could amusingly give even her oh-so grandiloquent Southern sister Jessye Norman (born in Augusta, GA) a run for her money in the bombastic pretension department. Once, in an interview, while describing something, the multilingual diva, who now resides in Salzburg, actually asked of her interviewer, “Como se dice ‘la porta’ en Inglese? Ah, yes, the door!”
Paying tribute to Bumbry, who gave a memorable NYC recital a few years ago, in which she proved that she still possessed considerable operatic chops besides singing and grooving to the funkiest rendition of “Wade in the Water” ever witnessed, was Aretha Franklin. No one will ever doubt La Franklin’s place in music history, but it should be noted that she also ranks very high in the Questionable Fashion Hall of Fame. In fact, when it comes to sheer sartorial horror, Lady Soul rarely disappoints. Obviously, she loves clothes, but the wrong ones.
Don’t get me wrong, Aretha has been a part of my life for as long as I can recall, I’ve gratefully worshipped at her shrine, SPARKLE is my all-time favorite album, and one of my prized possessions is a Kleenex she blotted her lipstick with that I stole off the set from a Phil Donahue show taping, but, to put it bluntly, an utterly exhausted Fashion Police officially retired her name long ago…
There was the hat she wore last year to Obama’s inauguration that definitely puzzled more than a few Europeans – who pretty much asked, “What’s that spaceship on her head?” – unfamiliar, as they were, with our time-honored African American tradition of churchgoing millinery