Jennifer Hudson performs Aretha Franklin medley at CMA Awards

The Grammy and Oscar winner sang two songs recorded by Franklin with country superstar Chris Stapleton.

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Jennifer Hudson has been working to keep the memory of the late Aretha Franklin alive beyond her recent big screen portrayal of the legendary singer/songwriter. Hudson brought two of Franklin’s recordings before a live audience at Wednesday’s Country Music Association (CMA) Awards.

Backed by a band that included four background singers and a full horn section, Hudson’s performance brought the Nashville house to its feet with “Night Life” and “You Are My Sunshine,” the latter a duet with country music sensation Chris Stapleton. Hudson started off the six-minute medley with powerhouse vocal runs on the bluesy “Night Life,” which received a standing ovation from the crowd.

Hudson and the band seamlessly transitioned into a gospel-tinged take of “You Are My Sunshine” which saw Hudson and Stapleton trading one ferocious vocal ad-lib after the other as the background vocals engaged in some amazing call-and-response. The performance kept the audience on their feet the whole way through.

Jennifer Hudson performs onstage during the 36th Annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland on Oct. 30. (Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame)

The choice of the two Franklin recordings from Hudson fit right in for the CMA fans and country artists in attendance. “Night Life” was originally co-written by country music legend Willie Nelson, while Jimmie Davis’ “You Are My Sunshine” has been a southern staple for decades, as well as an official song of the state of Louisiana. Both songs were recorded by Franklin on her 1967 album, Aretha Arrives.

Since portraying Franklin in this year’s biopic, Respect, Hudson’s has been very comfortable with the Queen of Soul’s catalog. She not only used her own singing voice in the film, and learned to play piano, as Franklin did, but she also recorded each song on the film’s soundtrack. The album features Hudson performing 17 Franklin classics, including “Respect,” “Ain’t No Way,” “Chain Of Fools,” “Think” and “Dr. Feelgood.” Hudson also collaborated with recent Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Carole King to co-write and sing an original song on the soundtrack, “Here I Am (Singing My Way Home).”

This isn’t the first time an R&B singer graced the stage of the CMAs. Beyoncé brought her Lemonade standout, “Daddy Lessons,” to the 2016 CMAs, performing with 10-time CMA Award-winners, The Dixie Chicks. The on-stage collaboration took place on the night of the CMA’s 50th anniversary. However, it stirred up some controversy afterward as fans disliked the pairing over Beyoncé’s lack of country music ties as well as the Dixie Chick’s past criticisms of former President George W. Bush.

Hudson’s blistering medley stood out among the other performers of the evening, including Carrie Underwood, Luke Combs, Kane Brown, Dan + Shay, Miranda Lambert, Jason Aldean, the Zac Brown Band, Eric Church, and Keith Urban, as reported by People. The 55th annual CMAs aired on ABC and was hosted by Luke Bryan.

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