That’s not exactly how it went, as becomes apparent when seeing moments not shown in the official Recording Academy clip above. Perhaps Bowie can be forgiven. In 1975, he was deep into his coked-up Thin White Duke journey.

Bowie in 1975.
Bowie in 1975.

His first words to the Grammy audience were a playful hint at what he had been up to in those days and nights. “Ladies and gentleman and others. I am honored to have been selected to perform this particular task,” he said. “I gave it a Grammy enthusiasm, in fact,” pausing for a dramatic sniffle that drew knowing laughs at the Uris Theatre. (You can watch here, starting at 49 seconds in.)

A radiant Franklin did, in fact, lean in for a kiss on the cheek (at 3:41 in the extended video) when Bowie handed her the award. (So much for snatching the trophy without a glance!) After Franklin speaks, she walks off the stage, and steps down toward the audience without flourish. Bowie heads into the wings—on the same side of the set—at a relaxed pace. So no stage-right, stage-left business either. (See all that starting at 4:24.)

Honored in two worlds

Franklin, who won a staggering 18 Grammys, was the first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and received countless other music awards. Like Bowie (who himself died in 2016), she was also adored in academia. Franklin was awarded at least a dozen honorary degrees from institutions including Yale, Harvard and the New England Conservatory of Music.

She linked those worlds in spirit and in deed, taking to the piano on the commencement stage to perform the “Star-Spangled Banner” at Harvard in 2014.

When Berklee presented Franklin with her own honorary doctorate in 2006, she told that year’s class, “Follow your dreams, follow your heart, sing yourself. Go out there and let them have it.”

Fellow honoree Melissa Etheridge, the 2006 commencement speaker, told a more uplifting story than Bowie’s. The singer-songwriter cited Franklin’s role in inspiring her, a wanna-be drummer in the third grade in 1968:

I would go home and I would receive my inspiration from the radio and from the records my parents and my sister had. Thank God they had good musical taste. My parents would bring home Simon and Garfunkel and I remember when they brought an amazing album called Amazing Grace. I sat and bathed in the amazing music of Aretha Franklin. Music was a way to communicate with my family. We didn’t have much to say, but we could listen to Aretha Franklin. We could feel that way.

📬 Sign up for the Daily Brief

Our free, fast, and fun briefing on the global economy, delivered every weekday morning.