Aretha Franklin recently featured 23-year-old pianist Kris Bowers in a special performance at her 70th birthday bash in New York. Franklin first encountered the Juilliard Scholarship Jazz Master student in Washington, D.C., last year when Bowers competed in and won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition. She asked for an introduction and subsequently invited Bowers and his trio (featuring vocalist José James) to the Helmsley Park Lane Hotel, where he performed for an audience that included Clive Davis, who also requested an introduction following his performance, Diane Sawyer, Rev. Al Sharpton, BET’s CEO Deborah Lee, opera star Kathleen Battle and choreographer George Faison were also in attendance. As part of his Thelonious Monk Award win, Bowers has a recording deal with Concord Records.