Aretha Franklin performed the closing set at the 2012 Essence Festival. Her "typically unpredictable" set was one of ups and down, punctuated with the weird and the wonderful. She had previously performed at the festival in 1995 and 2005 and fans had been looking forward to her return. According to Usa Today, though, fans were disappointed that she failed to perform her biggest hit, 'R.E.S.P.E.C.T.'
The set began with her orchestra "teasing" the crowd with instrumental versions of some of her best known hits, before she took to the stage, wearing an orange chiffon gown, complete with a cape. She started off by singing Jackie Wilson's '(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher.' It was described as an "inspired choice," though the soul legend's vocals were drowned out by those of her backing singers. Vocally, she may not have the strength that she had in her youth, but her voice is still "a thing to behold," it would seem.
The second half of Franklin's set, though, took a turn for the bizarre, as the music was temporarily halted whilst local dignitaries presented her with three awards. She then performed again, ensuring that she paid tribute to the late Whitney Houston by singing 'I Will Always Love You' and performing covers of Bb King's 'Sweet Sixteen' and Simon And Garfunkel's 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' before tackling some gospel numbers, with the help of the gospel choir behind her. Somewhat bafflingly, she then returned after an encore to throw stuffed animals into the crowd and then left, without the promised encore of 'R.E.S.PE.C.T.'