Watch Jennifer Hudson Honor Aretha Franklin at Pulitzer Prize Ceremony

Jennifer Hudson made a surprise appearance at the Pulitzer Prize awards ceremony in New York City to pay tribute to Aretha Franklin. The singer offered a rousing version of “Amazing Grace” at annual Pulitzer Prize luncheon at Columbia University’s Low Memorial Library, which honored the 103rd class of Pulitzer winners.

In April, Pulitzer announced it would be awarding Franklin, who died last year, a posthumous special citation “for her indelible contribution to American music and culture for more than five decades.” Franklin is one of only a few musicians to receive the Pulitzers’ Special Citation for the arts and she is the first individual female musician to take the honor. Previous winners include Rodgers & Hammerstein, George Gershwin, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Bob Dylan and, most recently in 2010, Hank Williams.

Hudson almost didn’t make it to the ceremony after being stuck in the Midwest due to bad weather. As a tribute to the Queen of Soul, she decided to brave an all-night road trip to New York. Hudson told the Associated Press, “I looked up and I thought, ‘You know what, it’s like Aretha’s spirit is in me. She didn’t believe in flying, she would drive.’ I got here in time, five minutes early to sing, because I wasn’t going to miss it. Honey I said, ‘If I got to walk, if I got to crawl, I’m going to get there.’ And here I am — so it’s in my heart.”

Hudson will play Franklin in an upcoming biopic of the singer’s life for MGM. The film, Respect, is being written by Oscar-winning Thelma & Louise screenwriter Callie Khouri and directed by Liesl Tommy. Hudson was hand-picked by Franklin to star in the film. She said in a statement, “It is an absolute honor to be a part of bringing Ms. Franklin’s story to audiences who adore her around the world. She is one of the most iconic and talented artists of all time and what a dream come true it is to portray her extraordinary life on screen. I could not be more excited to be working alongside Liesl Tommy, a brilliant and thoughtful director, who is no doubt the perfect choice to lead the film.”

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