Luciana Pavarotti, the great Italian tenor, passed away last month. Though best known for his operatic performances, in the last decade he also made numerous attempts to cross over into popular music. Following the overwhelming success of the “Three Tenors” collaboration in the 1980s which resulted in the best-selling classical album of all time (and prompted the spin-off “The Three Soul Tenors”), he decided to stretch the envelope even further in an attempt to bring opera to the masses. This was accomplished primarily through his annual “Pavarotti and Friends” charity concerts, which featured numerous musical celebrities. So here’s our tribute to Pavarotti—a brief run-down of his duets with African American musicians that are currently available on DVD and/or YouTube.
1998 Pavarotti & Friends for the Children of Liberia
Stevie Wonder and Pavarotti perform “Peace Wanted Just to Be Free.” The same concert also features Natalie Cole and Pavarotti singing the “Tonight” duet from West Side Story. The entire concert is available on DVD.
1999 Pavarotti & Friends For Guatemala And Kosovo
B.B. King partnered with the tenor on “The Thrill is Gone,” though Pavarotti wisely decided to simply hum along (sorry, no YouTube excerpt). Lionel Richie appears on the same concert. Available on DVD.
2001 Pavarotti & Friends for Afghanistan
Soul legend Barry White teams up with Pavarotti on “My First, My Last, My Everything.”
2002 Pavarotti & Friends for Angola
Without a doubt, the most audacious collaboration paired the “King of the High C” with the “King of Soul.” Here James Brown launches into “It’s a Man’s World” before thousands of cheering fans, and after a couple of refrains Pavarotti takes over, singing in Italian. The coupling is completely incongruous, but somehow it still works, if the thousands of cheering fans are any indication. This footage is also included as a bonus feature on: American Masters” James Brown: Soul Survivor (2004). What a fitting tribute to two musical legends lost within the past eight months.