Hours after she canceled an appearance at Houston's funeral because of spasms in her legs, the "Queen of Soul" was sentimental and sassy at Radio City Music Hall on Saturday night, The Associated Press reports.
It was the latest stop on a "greatest hits" tour featuring old favorites and, since Houston's death a week ago, a tribute to the singer. Franklin is close to Houston's family, and she said Houston, her goddaughter, called her "Aunt Ree."
Franklin herself was rumored a year ago to be mortally ill, hospitalized with an undisclosed illness and asking her fans worldwide to pray for her health.
At the concert, she looked back over a 50-year career and those who helped her along. Franklin praised the late Luther Vandross as she kicked off the R&B hit he co-wrote for her, "Get It Right." She introduced her most heartbreaking ballad, "Ain't No Way," with a brief word about her sister and the song's composer, Carolyn Franklin, who died in 1988. She sang the title from the classic Motown anthem of devotion, "You're All I Need to Get By," and two giant flat screens on opposite sides of the stage flashed a picture of one of the writers, Nick Ashford, who died last summer.
Houston's turn came during the second half of the concert, after Franklin settled behind the piano and sketched out the words and melody to "I Will Always Love You." Softening Houston's all-time power ballad into a light, gospel reverie, Franklin paused to acknowledge the "homegoing" of "Nippy," Houston's nickname: More formally, "Miss Whitney Elizabeth Houston."
"She was a very fine young lady" and "one of the best, greatest singers," said Franklin, breaking back and forth between melody and spoken word, behind song and sermon. "She was giving, gave so much of herself. God bless you, Nippy," she said. "We'll always remember."