Actor and soul singer Jennifer Hudson made her CMA Awards debut on Wednesday evening (Nov. 10), stepping onto the country awards show stage for a show-stopping (literally) tribute to Aretha Franklin. Chris Stapleton joined the star of the Aretha Franklin biopic Respect on guitar and vocals.

Hudson blew the entire crowd away with her pitch-perfect rendition of Franklin's "Night Life," followed by a raucous duet of "You Are My Sunshine" with Stapleton. Everyone in the crowd was on their feet, visibly moved by Hudson's performance. And though the telecast cut them off early to go to commercial, there's no doubt the crowd stayed on their feet long after the final note.

Joined by a dozen world class musicians on stage, Hudson and Stapleton matched each other's intensity and delivered a truly memorable CMA moment. Trisha Yearwood introduced the pair, noting the inseparable connection between soul and country music and remarking that Hudson was there "to honor Aretha's contribution to country" with a song Franklin recorded half a century ago.

While Hudson herself may not have much direct experience with releasing country music, she recently channeled a powerful, all-genre icon when she starred as Aretha Franklin in the 2021 biopic Respect. At the time the movie came out, the New York Times reported that Franklin and Hudson's friendship dates back over a decade, and that Franklin was in fact the one who suggested that Hudson should play her.

Franklin died in 2018 at the age of 76, and musicians of every genre and style stepped up to tribute her memory, including many country stars. In the wake of her death, acts like Willie Nelson, Reba McEntire, Tim McGraw and Kelly Clarkson all reflected on Franklin's influence.

The Country Music Association held the 2021 CMA Awards at Bridgestone Arena in downtown Nashville. The show, hosted for the first time by Luke Bryan, returned to the venue — its home since 2006 — after one year at Music City Center due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

2021 CMA Awards — Best Pictures From the Show

The 2021 CMA Awards brought surprise collaborations and electric performances from artists like Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Jason Aldean, Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert. Newcomers Carly Pearce and Gabby Barrett also took the stage. This gallery of pictures from the show includes candid show moments as well as pictures taken during emotional acceptance speeches. The 2021 CMA Awards were broadcast live on ABC from Nashville's Bridgestone Arena on Nov. 10.

50 Greatest CMA Awards Moments of All Time

Taylor SwiftCarrie Underwood and Luke Bryan all make this list of the 50 best CMA Awards moments, but so do legendary acts like Johnny CashLoretta Lynn, Barbara Mandrell and Dolly Parton (multiple times!).

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