Jennifer Hudson channels Aretha’s spirit in Pulitzer Prize honor for the Queen of Soul

Free Press wire report | 6/7/2019, 6 a.m.
With bad weather in Chicago on Memorial Day and her flight canceled, Jennifer Hudson worried at the thought of missing ...
Jennifer Hudson sings “Amazing Grace” in a tribute to Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, who received a special music citation during the 2019 Pulitzer Prize awards luncheon May 28 in New York. Bebeto Matthews Associated Press


With bad weather in Chicago on Memorial Day and her flight canceled, Jennifer Hudson worried at the thought of missing her performance at the Pulitzer Prize awards ceremony May 28 to pay tribute to honoree Aretha Franklin.

But then Ms. Hudson said she felt the spirit of the Queen of Soul, who refused to fly but traveled by tour bus to concerts and events. And then Ms. Hudson drove nearly 13 hours to New York to make the luncheon.

“I looked up and I thought, ‘You know what, it’s like Aretha’s spirit is in me. She didn’t believe in flying, she would drive,’ ” Ms. Hudson said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I got here in time, five minutes early to sing, because I wasn’t going to miss it. Honey I said, ‘If I got to walk, if I got to crawl, I’m going to get there.’ And here I am — so it’s in my heart.”

Ms. Hudson embodied Ms. Franklin’s spirit and vocal prowess as she brought the ceremony to church with a rousing, fiery performance of “Amazing Grace,” bringing the audience of journalists to its feet.

“She’s always with me, I feel,” Ms. Hudson said of Ms. Franklin. “I always keep her in my mind and in my heart, and try to lead in a way that I know that she would want me to.”


Ebony Collection/AP Images

Aretha Franklin

Ms. Franklin, who died last August at age 76, was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize Special Citation honor at the May 28 event, becoming the first individual woman to earn a special citation prize since the honor was first awarded in 1930.

The Pulitzer board said the award was given to Ms. Franklin for “her indelible contribution to American music and culture for more than five decades.”

Collaborator and close friend Clive Davis and longtime publicist Gwendolyn Quinn accepted the honor on behalf of Ms. Franklin’s family.

South Florida’s Sun-Sentinel won the prize in public service for its coverage of the Feb. 14, 2018, mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where 17 students and staff were killed. Pulitzer Prizes also were awarded to the staff of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for breaking news reporting, the Los Angeles Times for investigative reporting, while Reuters and The Associated Press were both honored for international reporting.

Dana Canedy, administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes, said her favorite submission was from student journalists from the Parkland school for their own coverage of the tragic shooting and powerful obituaries of those who died.

Ms. Hudson posed for photos with the students at the luncheon held at Columbia University, which also featured performances by Damien Sneed and Brandie Inez Sutton.

She also spoke to the students backstage about the effects of gun violence. One of the students told the singer that experiencing a mass shooting is a club no one wanted to be a part of.

“Exactly. And you have no choice,” said Ms. Hudson, whose mother, brother and 7-year-old nephew were shot to death in 2008. “No one knows when it’s gonna happen or who it’s gonna happen to, and you never know how life-changing it is until it happens. But the only way we can ever make a difference is for those who have not experienced it, to look from the perspective of those who have. And that’s when the change will happen, you know?”

Ms. Hudson, an Oscar and Grammy winner, will play Ms. Franklin in an upcoming biopic. She said she always felt connected to Ms. Franklin.

“Even when I auditioned for ‘American Idol,’ I sang ‘Share Your Love with Me’ by Aretha Franklin. ... I’m like, ‘Wow! It’s like her presence was always there,’” Ms. Hudson said. “Even when I did ‘Dream Girls,’ they were like, ‘What’s going to be the next big role that you would play, or that you feel could measure up to this?’ Fifteen years later, it has manifested.”

She said Ms. Franklin called her when Ms. Hudson was on Broadway.

“She was like, ‘And I’ve made my decision, and it is you.’ I was like, ‘Yes, ma’am, I’m ready. I will give it every bit of my all,” Ms. Hudson continued. “That’s why I had to get on that road trip last night to get here, because if I said I’m in, I’m in.”