The Grammys’ longtime executive producer, Ken Ehrlich, remembered that Franklin had sung the aria two nights before at an event honoring Pavarotti. When he asked her to perform it again that night, she agreed. With little time, she listened to a cassette of Pavarotti’s performance of the number and met with Pavarotti’s conductor, according to Billboard. Without ever seeing the staging of the number, with a full orchestra and a 30-person chorus, she proceeded to deliver one of the most stunning performances in the history of the Grammy Awards, and one of her most famous ever.

Ehrlich has often credited Franklin’s performance that night with not only saving the show, but as one of the highlights of his career with the awards ceremony. Ehrlich said in an interview with Billboard that no one — not him, not the audience, not the other performers that night — was prepared for Franklin’s astonishing abilities. “Everybody knew that she was incomparable,” he said. But no one could have anticipated that she could sing an aria in Pavarotti’s place. “Aretha’s performance was such a moment. I don’t want to say it dwarfed the rest of the show, but it was epic. When the news broke, it was all anyone was talking about in a pre-blogging world,” Ehrlich added (via Billboard). And they weren’t the only ones surprised by the number. Franklin herself was amazed by the fans’ response and told Ehrlich the next day that she would never forget the performance.

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