5 Live Performances Nailed by Musical Don(na)s


musical dons, musical donnes, live performances

Having checked out some of our male musical heroes really nailing their live performances, it’s time for their female counterparts to put the dip in your hip and the glide in your stride.

By no means exhaustive, here are a couple of our favorites.


Aretha Franklin

This track is taken from her 1968 Concertgebouw show in Amsterdam which is worth checking out in its entirety for an insight into Aretha’s gifts and for a real snapshot of the 60s. Aretha nails this version, which has a much heavier swing than studio takes of the song and which showcases her power and poise on the mic.

In fact this entry is really two entries. Fast forward 47 years to Aretha dropping the same tune at the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors. Holy Moly! She smashes it again.

Sure, she sings a touch lower but give her a break – she’s 73 years old! Plus she bosses that piano intro and has some indomitable swag in the form of a coat that looks like it’s made from about 1,000 chinchillas (we hope it’s not though). The performance was so good it almost made Barack Obama cry!


Janis Joplin

Oh Janis!

Ramshackle but captivating, Janis is a true rock and roll icon. Okay, this performance isn’t great from a musical perspective but it captures all of her energy and craziness pretty well – Janis is more interested in getting the party started by inviting a bunch of slightly awkward people onto the stage to dance with her!

Originally sung by Erma Franklin (Aretha’s older sister), this song was co-written by Bert Berns who also has writing or producing credits on Twist and Shout, Brown Eyed Girl, Here Comes the Night, Hang on Sloopy, Under the Boardwalk and Everybody Needs Somebody to Love!

Errr… so if you want to learn how to write a freaking incredible pop song then maybe give Bert a call?

Anyways, here’s Janis lighting it up.


Patti Smith

Co-written by Bruce Springstein (who surely was a scandalous omission from our top 5 don musical live performances?), Patti’s brings all of her intense, brooding, don’t-give-a-damm attitude to this performance of her anthemic tune. It’s like she’s not even really trying.

This is one of those tunes you hear where a) you don’t know how you know it but b) it’s like you’ve always known it and all of the lyrics for the chorus are hardwired into your brain. Great job Patti (and Bruce!).


Tina Turner

Yo. So, if your mom likes Tina Turner (mine used to do the ironing to Simply The Best) and you grew up thinking that Tina is just about corny 80s and 90s power rock-ballads, then back up and think again.

Tina is the real deal. Or at least she was in the 60s and 70s, not meaning to diss her later work (which blatantly isn’t as good though!).

Her work with her then husband Ike (a gifted guitarist but thoroughly unpleasant husband), especially this performance, showcases her incredible vocal talents, verve and charisma.

In this vid, we see Tina laying down a minute and a half of vibey strutting and proto-Beyoncé shape-throwing before launching into a heavily reworked version of the Phil Spector-produced River Deep Mountain High.

Dancing, backing singers with shakers, brass section blowing hard, Ike shredding on guitar? Pretty much everyone on that stage is killing it!


Cat Power

Everyone else on the list is kinda classic and, believe us, there are so many others artists we would have loved to include here (Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Joni Mitchell to name a few).

However, we thought we’d rep someone a bit more contemporary who, for our hard-earned money, has a voice and style that is up there with some of those old-time greats.

Enter Chan Marshall aka Cat Power. Chan has had a pretty grizzly life with its fair share of ups and downs, and she’s often been accused of being erratic when performing live (abandoning songs or whole concerts midway through, berating the audience and telling them to sue her, talking to imaginary squirrels!).

However, here she’s at the very top of her very emotive game here, putting that voice of sandpaper and honey to incredible use. We think she enjoyed this performance too: see that sly little smile at ~2:30 just before the catchy intro and backing singers comes in?