The Queen

respectOver the weekend, we went to see the film, RESPECT, with friends.  In case you don’t follow movies, it is a biopic of the life of Aretha Franklin starring Jennifer Hudson.  Now, I love rhythm and blues, what we used to call soul music.   Not only did my years in college coincide with the explosion of Motown, in my junior year I joined Beta Sigma Gamma, the first inter-racial fraternity at the University of Connecticut.  As I used to say, almost half of my fraternity brothers were brothers.  I started my junior year listening to the Beach Boys but ended it listening to The Supremes, The Temptations and yes, Aretha Franklin.  So naturally, I really enjoyed RESPECT, filled as it was with Jennifer Hudson’s amazing renditions Of Aretha’s music.  As a film, it was good but a little long … still I learned a lot about Aretha’s often difficult life.  Reading RESPECT: Hollywood vs. History at home after the movie, I discovered that the film understated the ways in which her father and first husband controlled her life and career.

The day after seeing RESPECT, I found Aretha Franklin’s 30 Greatest HIts on Amazon Music and listened to it cover-to- cover.  I also watched Amazing Grace, the documentary on the making of her gospel recording Amazing Grace, at The New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Watts, Los Angeles in January 1972.   In spite of my love of the work of many female rhythm and blues singers … think Gladys Knight, Whitney Houston, Oleta Adams, Chaka Khan … I realize I had under-appreciated Aretha Franklin, not just as a singer but as a songwriter, pianist and activist for civil rights.  Her range is remarkable, whether she’s taking a minor Otis Redding song, Respect, and owning it, reinterpretting Dionne Warwick’s iconic version of I Say a Little Prayer or turning Carole King’s Natural Woman into a gospel-tinged torch song.  And Daydreaming, which she wrote, is simply perfect.  According to Wikepedia, in 2015, President Barack Obama wrote the following regarding Franklin:  Nobody embodies more fully the connection between the African-American spiritual, the blues, R. & B., rock and roll—the way that hardship and sorrow were transformed into something full of beauty and vitality and hope. American history wells up when Aretha sings. Yep.  She’s The Queen.

In evidence, I leave you with this live performance of Daydreaming:

and this performance of Natural Woman, which she performed at the Kennedy Center Honors for Carole King:

Case closed.

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2 Comments on “The Queen”

  1. Meg Says:

    I was watching the Kennedy Center Honors the night Aretha sang “Natural Women”. I was blown away when she dropped that fur coat to the floor! What a performer! Obama wasn’t the only one wiping away tears.

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