The Queen of Soul, who died in August at age 76 after a battle with pancreatic cancer, was honored by several singers including Gladys Knight, Ledisi, Mary Mary, Donnie McClurkin and CeCe Winans at the big show on Tuesday night.
The tribute kicked with a retrospective of Franklin's career, including footage of her performing at the third-ever AMAs, after an emotional tribute from host Tracee Ellis Ross to "our friend, our sister, our queen." Then Knight, 74, opened the tribute with a beautiful rendition of "Amazing Grace," which led into performances of "Climbing Higher Mountains," " Mary, Don't You Weep," "How I Got Over," and more.
ET's Keltie Knight spoke with Franklin's sons, Jordan Franklin and Kecalf Cunningham and granddaughter, Victorie Franklin, on the red carpet ahead of the awards show, where they opened up about their excitement over the tribute.
"I'm excited, I didn't get a chance to check out too many of them," Jordan said of the performers. "Just from all the other performances and tributes, it's always something special. So I'm definitely excited."
"[I feel] honored," Kecalf shared.
"Appreciated," Victorie added.
"The last time we were here, she did a show here. [It was] maybe a couple years ago, and it was amazing. This exact venue," Jordan added of the Microsoft Theater. "I think she'd be happy to be back and she'd appreciate all the love. She's here, we're here so she's here."
Prior to the live show, ET caught up with its producers, Mark Bracco and Baz Halpin, who discussed their hopes for the tribute.
“This is huge. I mean, obviously a terrible loss… not only the musical world, but the world in general,” Halpin said. “We have an incredible Aretha tribute featuring just a host of gospel stars. I think it’s something that everybody will want to see.”
Bracco concurred, saying that the performance would “start out with a lot of tears and end up with a lot of joy.”
“Yeah, it's a celebration for sure,” Halpin agreed.
The tribute came about thanks to Rickey Minor, who was a close friend of Franklin’s and produced the musical arrangement for the tribute.
“[The tribute is] about the people who were close to her and the music that she loved, and really paying tribute to that,” Halpin said.
“We really wanted to pay tribute to her gospel roots… first of all with Gladys Knight, who’s a legend, and then gathering some of the biggest legends of gospel,” Bracco added. “That's really what's going to be a celebration of life… It’s not going to be maudlin, it's going to be joyful.”