By Isabel Jones
Updated Nov 06, 2018 @ 9:15 am

The Elton John AIDS Foundation put on its 26th annual gala in New York City on Monday night, with guests including Connie Britton, Judith Light, Tony Bennett, and Ava DuVernay. M.C. Gayle King and hosts Elton John and David Furnish introduced a slate of speeches, an auction, and a special performance from 9-time Grammy winner Sheryl Crow.

Though spirits were high, it was difficult not to think fondly on the year prior — one that gave us the late Aretha Franklin’s final performance.

Elton John AIDS Foundation Commemorates Its 25th Year And Honors Founder Sir Elton John During New York Fall Gala - Show
Credit: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

Sir Elton John opened up about the Queen of Soul’s last moments on stage, telling InStyle, “She was so sick. We went to see her before the show and she was so frail. She was supposed to do it the year before, and I said, ‘Are you OK?’ and she said, ‘I can’t let you down again.’”

John thought Franklin was buoyed by the setting: St. John the Divine. “She was, I think, really inspired by the situation—that it was in a cathedral — she came onstage and she just got better and better and better as the evening wore on. She played the piano … I was with Sheryl Crow and Roseanne Cash, and we were crying, because I didn’t think she’d ever perform again — she was that frail. But boy, did she perform, and what an honor. It was one of the greatest nights of my life,” he confessed.

Franklin passed away in August from pancreatic cancer. She was 76.

Tony Bennett's 85th Birthday Gala Benefit for Exploring the Arts
Credit: Jemal Countess/Getty Images

The legendary singer and philanthropist paid tribute to Franklin at the time of her death, tweeting, “The loss of @ArethaFranklin is a blow for everybody who loves real music: Music from the heart, the soul and the Church. Her voice was unique, her piano playing underrated – she was one of my favourite pianists.”

From one legend to another. RIP, Aretha.