Almanac Music: R.I.P. Aretha

 

 

She never made a big deal about awards, accolades or acclaim.

 

There were plenty of them. 18 Grammy Awards, 75 million records sold. Letters from American presidents and a never-ending request for songs, songs, songs.

 

Aretha Franklin has been part of my life, part of an astonishingly massive number of other people’s lives since she started creating slices of musical magic in the 1960s.

 

Until her arrival in the industry, it was simply assumed women would be backing singers at the rear of the queue. No questions asked.

 

But Aretha changed all that. She made people “Think”, she demanded “Respect”, she merged gospel, soul and funk and the sheer exhilaration of music and all its beauty.

 

There were never any half measures with this incipient force of nature. Jerry Wexler and other record executives, who tried to turn her into a female Marvin Gaye or Stevie Wonder, were sent packing.

 

Aretha had other priorities. She lived in an era where black people were treated like second or third-class citizens in many communities. She was banned from entering venues early on and became incensed at America’s latent racism.

 

At one concert, an official told her to put on “more white make-up.” Aretha went home and told her colleagues it was time to make a stand.

 

What a job she did with that. Stevie Wonder was a child, tasked with saving Motown’s reputation. And who emerged as the mighty force of nature who transformed the torpor?

 

Aretha’s biggest problem, in music at least, was the pure talent at her disposal. Record company executives were bamboozled. How do you make profit out of somebody with such irrepressible genius?

 

Listen to her quiet, understated performance on “I Say A Little Prayer”. Then compare it to the sizzling majesty of her duet with Scotland’s Annie Lennox on “Sisters Are Doing It for Themselves.”

 

Annie said, after hearing about Aretha’s death from pancreatic cancer: “She was the supreme singer, the rest of us were in awe.”

 

And that summed up the enormous influence of Aretha on the music and the political climate in which she lived, flourished and occasionally raged about.

 

She was the greatest singer of her generation. Tina Turner went further in saying: “She was the only singer of her generation.”

 

She was special and the tributes from Barack Obama and the American music industry speak volumes.

 

But she also made a difference, not just in her own sphere, but in the wider world. As she said in 1984: “We can all move forward or we can stand still. I honestly believe music is one of the great unifying forces.”

 

RIP Aretha!

 

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Comments

  1. E.regnans says:

    Thanks Neil.

    #Think.
    #Respect.

    Here is Aretha Franklin on the TV show “Soul Train” – sometime in 1979. Interview and song with Smokey Robinson:
    https://youtu.be/OxtRbBNPQRE

  2. Wonderful summing up. Aretha Franklin was a legend. Apart from her voice, she was someone we looked up to in her fight against racism. And her feminist beliefs influenced multitudes. Thanks.

  3. Great tribute Neil. She gave us many gifts but her voice stands above all others. As someone said yesterday even the most casual of fans knew it was Aretha in the first two notes.

    Thanks.

  4. Ta Neil. She was the voice of the Civil Rights movement at the time of making great progress.

    Her links to Martin Luther King are worth noting. Her father, who organised the 1963 Detroit walk for freedom, was a close friend of King, who often visited the Franklin family. Aretha grew up in an environment, where oppression/injustice wasn’t tolerated.

    It’s worth noting that during this period she had a clause in her performance contracts she would not perform in front of segregated audiences: a brave stand.

    Vale Aretha,

    Glen!

  5. Joe De Petro says:

    Thanks Neil. Lovely tribute.

    Sad news. Aretha was a true star.

  6. Luke Reynolds says:

    Well said Neil, wonderful tribute.
    What a superstar. RIP Aretha.

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