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Leadership: Aretha Knows Her Audience. Do You?

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine called and said she had an extra ticket to go see Aretha Franklin where she was going to be playing at a local theatre. It was a Wednesday night and generally, I don’t go to music concerts during the week, but this was too good to pass up. The concert was scheduled to start at 8. Yeah, right, I figured. First were the warm up acts(s), then, if we were lucky after the stage was cleared and reset, Franklin would go on at about 10 p.m. I’ve been to a few concerts in my day.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine called and said she had an extra ticket to go see Aretha Franklin where she was going to be playing at a local theatre. It was a Wednesday night and generally, I don’t go to music concerts during the week, but this was too good to pass up. The concert was scheduled to start at 8. Yeah, right, I figured. First were the warm up acts(s), then, if we were lucky after the stage was cleared and reset, Franklin would go on at about 10 p.m. I’ve been to a few concerts in my day. With a busy workday coming up, I drove my own car, figuring that if the concert went too late, I could leave before the end without inconveniencing anyone else.

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So we got there a little before 8. Though I shouldn’t have been surprised, the theatre was filled with people like me, baby boomers in middle age, many with white hair and the requisite paunch. It was, after all, the ‘burbs. So eight o’clock rolled past, then 8:05, 8:10 and suddenly, the band came out and before any of us knew what was happening, there she was, in all her glory, Ms. Aretha Franklin belting out R-E-S-P-E-C-T. The crowd went wild. It was 8:15 p.m.

Ms. Franklin got all her biggest hits out of the way in the first 30 minutes…Think, Chain of Fools, Freeway of Love, Natural Woman…and 2-3 more of those crowd pleasers. She knew her audience. All great performers do. She talked to us, asked how we were doing, thanked us for coming out on a weeknight. She made a few jokes, bantered with the members of her band who were uniformly fabulous. We ate it up.

Her voice is still strong, that distinctive sound I’m certain would carry into the farthest reaches of the balcony even without being amplified. The high notes were not as solid or frequent, but who would expect that after nearly four decades of belting them out? Still, she saved a few for us and when she hit them, well, it was heaven. I was struck most by her artistry. She missed neither a note nor a lyric. Her movements were perfectly coordinated with her songs. A big woman, she was incredibly light on her feet, moving fluidly, dancing gracefully. She seemed completely at ease on stage, as if nothing would ever ruffle her (and her dress had a lot of feathers).

For me, and I’m betting for many of the others—hard driving, hard working types whose minds are never quite off work—it was a time of pure enjoyment with a total focus on pleasure. It was relaxing. At 9:45 p.m., she sang her final song of her final set. At 9:55, she sang her encore. By 10:00 we were filing out of the theatre, smiling all the way home, plopping into bed and dreaming pleasant Aretha Franklin dreams.

She knew her audience. All great performers do. Do you know yours?

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About the author

Ruth Sherman, M.A., is a strategic communications consultant focusing on preparing business leaders, politicians, celebrities, and small business entrepreneurs to leverage critical public communications including keynote speeches, webcasts, investor presentations, road shows, awards presentations, political campaigns and media contact. Her clients hail from the A-list of international business including General Electric, JP Morgan (NY, London, Frankfurt), Timex Group, Deloitte and Dubai World

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