Jennifer Hudson and Chris Stapleton Join Forces For Epic Aretha Franklin Tribute at CMA Awards

Live from Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, Jennifer Hudson, singer, actress and star of the acclaimed Aretha Franklin biographical musical drama, RESPECT,…


Madeleine O’Connell

| Posted on

November 11, 2021


10:52 am

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Chris Stapleton, Jennifer Hudson; Photo Courtesy ABC

Live from Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, Jennifer Hudson, singer, actress and star of the acclaimed Aretha Franklin biographical musical drama, RESPECT, made her CMA Awards debut with a special performance on Wednesday (Nov. 10).

Hudson was invited to join the star-studded performance lineup after CMA producer Robert Deaton witnessed a screening of RESPECT at The National Museum of African American Music.

“The connection between country and soul and gospel runs deep,” presenter Trisha Yearwood stated as she introduced the performance. 

Jennifer Hudson; Photo Courtesy CMA
Jennifer Hudson; Photo Courtesy CMA

In a tribute to the late Queen of Soul, Hudson began her performance by singing “Night Life,” the timeless Willie Nelson track, which Franklin covered in 1967. She was then joined on stage by fellow artist Chris Stapleton, who accompanied her on vocals and the guitar for another iconic Franklin cover of, “You Are My Sunshine,” originally written by Jimmie Davis and Charles Mithchell. Both of these songs were included in Franklin’s album, Aretha Arrives. Stapleton and his wife Morgane also recorded their own cover of “You Are My Sunshine” in 2016 for Dave Cobb’s Southern Family project.

In addition to this historic moment with Hudson, Stapleton had an eventful night at the 55th CMA Awards, to say the least. Not only was he one of the most nominated artists of the night, but he also took home four wins, with Song of the Year, Single of the Year, Album of the Year for his album Starting Over, and it’s title track, and Male Vocalist of the Year. Earlier in the night, Stapleton also took to the stage for a chilling solo performance of his single, “Cold.”

Franklin may have been the queen of soul, but she also had a deep connection with country music, and it’s community as a Memphis artist. Because of this, her passing in 2018 was impactful on many artist’s careers, who strived to follow in her footsteps. Willie Nelson once called Franklin “the greatest gift and the voice of a generation. She could turn any song into a hymn.” Faith Hill was in partnership with Franklin for her album, Aretha: A Woman Falling Out of Love in 2006. She also had a few words to share about her friend and fellow artist, “GLORY, GLORY, GLORY to the ALMIGHTY!!! The choir of angels now have the greatest voice of all time to lead.”

The sound of country music continues to grow in diversity every day. Pop, rock & roll and even soul are part of the genre in a more open and accepting fashion than ever before, and it’s hard to deny Franklin’s impact on the evolving sounds. Thanks to Hudson, Franklin’s legacy has been and will continue to be kept alive in the music industry.

Much like Hudson, Franklin was no stranger to making a statement across multiple genres in the industry. Besides receiving an abundance of awards for her work over the years, in 1987, she was declared the first female artist to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  A few years later, she became the youngest recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors at age 52. For years to come after these honorable moments, the Grammy legend was highly regarded for her incredible talent and went on to challenge those who survive her.

The Academy Award winner, Hudson, left the CMA Awards audience in awe with her last notes of her performance of “You Are My Sunshine.” Stapleton stood by her proudly in accompaniment on stage, while Hudson stole the show with her powerful vocals. Artists in attendance such as Breland, Thomas Rhett, and HARDY with his fiancée, were seen on their feet dancing and singing along with Hudson, when they weren’t caught up in awe of the breathtaking moment. 


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The 55th Annual CMA Awards also featured performances from Luke Combs, Jimmie Allen, Gabby Barrett, Brothers Osborne, Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Dan + Shay, Miranda Lambert, Old Dominion, Thomas Rhett, Blake Shelton, Chris Stapleton, Keith Urban, and Zac Brown Band.

Additionally, the show included star-studded collaborations by Chris Young and Kane Brown, Carly Pearce and Ashley McBryde, Mickey Guyton, Brittney Spencer and Madeline Edwards, Jason Aldean and Carrie Underwood, Dierks Bentley, BRELAND and HARDY. 

Country singers Trace Adkins, Ingrid Andress, Kelsea Ballerini, Deana Carter, Russell Dickerson, Florida Georgia Line, Alan Jackson, Lady A, Scotty McCreery, Darius Rucker, Lainey Wilson, and Trisha Yearwood were on hand to present during the ceremony.

Lauren Daigle, Faith Fennidy, Freddie Freeman, Amy Grant, Dulé Hill, Elle King, Zachary Levi, Hayley Orrantia, Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, Susan Sarandon, Saycon Sengbloh and Kurt Warner also made special appearances throughout the broadcast. 

Hosted by Luke Bryan, the 2021 CMA Awards broadcasted live from Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday, Nov. 10 at 8/7c on ABC.

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Madeleine O’Connell graduated from North Central College with a bachelors degree in Journalism and Broadcast Communications before deciding to pursue her studies further at DePaul University. There, she earned her masters degree in Digital Communication & Media Arts. O’Connell served as a freelance writer for over two years while also interning with the Academy of Country Music, SiriusXM and Circle Media and assisting with Amazon Music’s Country Heat Weekly podcast. In addition to Country Now, she has been published in American Songwriter, Music Mayhem, and Holler.Country. Madeleine O’Connell is a member of the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music.