The singer – whose new album Sweetener is released today – was originally set to perform a comedy skit on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, but following the news that the Queen of Soul had died, took to the stage for a rendition of “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman” backed by The Roots.
Grande is said to have originally been too emotional to perform. However, TMZ reports she decided to perform after percussionist Questlove convinced her to do so. They received a standing ovation from the audience as Grande broke down in tears, emotional over the loss of Franklin.
The singer recalled once receiving a phone call from the soul legend who asked her to listen to music made by one of her grandchildren.
“She goes, ‘Hi, it’s Aretha,’” she said, adding: “I was like, ‘Franklin?’”
Celebrities, including Sir Elton John and Diana Ross, have paid tribute to the soul legend, with the former calling her death “a blow for everybody who loves real music”.
Ross said on Twitter: “I’m sitting in prayer for the wonderful golden spirit Aretha Franklin.”
Sir Paul McCartney wrote: “Let’s all take a moment to give thanks for the beautiful life of Aretha Franklin, the Queen of our souls, who inspired us all for many many years.”
In 1987, Franklin – who has sold over 75 million records worldwide – became the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The 18-time Grammy Award-winner’s other career highlights include a cameo appearance in cult classic The Blues Brothers (1980) and a 1998 performance in which she replaced opera singer Luciano Pavarotti in singing “Nessun Dorma” at the last minute.