Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Aretha Franklin and Teamwork

Aretha Franklin’s 1998 Grammys performance of Nessun Dorma, beyond it being a masterclass in deeply respecting the source material while making it your own, was an illustration of great team functioning.

Luciano Pavarotti, the legendary tenor, had to cancel his performance at the last minute.

The impact would have left a huge hole in the program. The producers stared at the specter of having to come up with something “entertaining” quickly. The orchestra and chorus were staring down the possibilities of either losing their gig or having to learn a new song impossibly fast. Staging, other presenters and performers, broadcasting – all impacted.

Then Aretha stepped up, 30 minutes beforehand, and sang it in Pavarotti’s key.

The aria is difficult enough. Singing it outside one’s natural range – just…wow.   (The link is a recording of her singing the aria her way. Notice that she’s pitched it up a bit.)

By Aretha stepping up the way she did, everyone wins.

Aretha gets to show off a skill she’s been practicing in a friendlier environment and be a hero.

The audience gets a unique version of this Puccini operatic showstopper.

The orchestra keeps their gig.

And the production team collapsed in relief.


Organizations dream of having teams where talented individuals willingly step in for each other so that the show goes on.

Some of the best teams I’ve been on have had these characteristics.

  • Talented individuals.
  • An understanding and acceptance of the goal and the desired outcome.
  • A willingness to stretch if they have a skill that they may not use very often or are just learning, but is needed at that moment.
  • Encouraging team members who appreciate the help – even if it is not what they expected.
  • An appreciative organization that allows the team member to do the work without fear of criticism or judgment.

Aretha Franklin stepped up and rescued the 1998 Grammys – taking a HUGE risk to her reputation by subbing for a legendary tenor at the last minute. She did this without making anyone else adjust.  This is why she is legendary.

RIP Ms. Franklin and thank you.
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