*Aretha Franklin arrived at her 70th birthday bash on the arm of her handsome longtime companion Willie Wilkerson at the breathtakingly stunning Helmsley Park Lane Hotel on Central Park West in New York City on Saturday evening, March 24, 2012. The party took place in one of the hotel’s swanky private party rooms where lovely tables of 10 were adorned with beautiful flowers replete with formal table settings.
The Queen of Soul looked majestic in a silver and black dress with matching shoes and a new short hairdo that was flattering to her beautifully toned face. Shortly after she had taken her seat, guests surrounded her table like Indians surrounding a covered wagon showering her with love, gifts and best wishes.
As everyone was getting their groove on, legendary record producer Clive Davis arrived and took his seat next to Franklin where he remained all evening long. Guests soon learned what the whispering between the two music mavens was all about when Franklin announced that she would make more beautiful music with the legendary record producer.
“I have re-signed with Clive Davis, so I’m recording with Clive again,” said Franklin. They last worked together in the 1980s. Franklin announced that she had signed a new contract with Sony Music Entertainment, where Davis serves as chief creative officer.
If you recall, it was Davis who signed Franklin to Arista Records during her career slump in the Eighties, a move that reinvigorated her career and helped to define his. Franklin and Davis’s winning pairing under the Arista umbrella yielded numerous hit albums, including 1980’s Aretha, 1982’s Jump to It and 1985’s Who’s Zoomin Who?
The stellar evening included dinner, dancing, dessert bar and entertainment featuring a jazzy jam session by the Kris Bowers Trio featuring Jose James. A big fan of culture, Franklin commissioned her friend and award-winning choreographer George Faison to choreograph several numbers for her guests that was performed by The George Faison Dancers – “Summer of 42” and “Somewhere Lost in Time.”
During a formal three course dinner (the food never stopped being served), which was served by an impeccable serving staff, guests dined on a delectable menu personally selected by Franklin. Guests had choice of (cold appetizers) smoked salmon and American caviar, caper-red onion cream cheese, pumpernickel toast points, chilled snow crab claws, pineapple mignonette and cocktail sauce or field greens, cherry tomatoes, roasted red onions, parmesan crisp, vinaigrette dressing; (hot appetizers) choice of lobster ravioli in shellfish bisque, jumbo lump crab cake, chipotle aioli and micro pea tendrils, lobster bisque or French onion soup; (entrée) choice of crabmeat stuffed fillet of sole, lobster cream sauce, sautéed dover sole fillet, brown butter, lemon and capers; filet mignon, merlot shallot glace or grilled farm fresh vegetables napoleon, aged balsamic; and (desserts) pear almond cake, lemon cake, triple chocolate mousse or New York cheesecake.
After dinner, a three-tier birthday cake was rolled out for a formal cake ceremony to the Happy Birthday music by Stevie Wonder. Then the Queen cut her cake assisted by Wilkerson. She then took time to thank all of her guests for attending her big 7-0 party and to especially thank her former publicist Tracey Jordan and her current publicist (twice over) Gwendolyn Quinn and GQ Media Relations for going the distance to make her wishes come true. Then the Queen commanded that we all eat cake which was the clue for the unveiling of a dessert bar in the back of the room.
Audrey J. Bernard is an established chronicler of Black society and Urban happenings based in the New York City area.