Elton John held his AIDS Foundation's 17th annual gala in New York Monday night.
Raising $3.9 million, the evening featured a performance by Sheryl Crow and a painting by Tony Bennett that was auctioned for $100,000.
Elton thanked those on hand by pointing to Aretha Franklin, the gala's featured entertainer a year earlier. "We witnessed the final performance of the Queen of Soul... You don't see greatness like that often... It was clear she was unwell... But she smiled her sweet smile and said, 'I didn't want to let you down. I was supposed to play the year before, and I didn't want to let you down.'"
Elton saluted her and the other aging icons of an era inevitably fading to history: "Cherish those artists -- they don't come along very often."
The money raised will be used to support HIV/AIDS communities around the world.