March 25, 1942– Aretha Franklin:
Falling Out of Love is Like Losing Weight. It’s a Lot Easier Putting It On Than Taking It Off.
She bravely shared in her music, all the hurt that love can bring. Her voice is authentic, astute, and even at times affectionate. I adore Aretha in a bouffant, an Afro, in feathers, in furs, and especially in that famous hat worn at Barack Obama‘s first inauguration in 2008.
I love her, and I admire that she pushed her amazing instrument to the limits. Franklin has sold more than 86 million records and won 19 Grammy Awards. In 1987, she became the first female inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Franklin paved the way for all the sisters to be doin’ it for themselves.
Yet, I do not have every single album that she has recorded. That would be 50+ albums! But, I do have my original: The Tender, The Moving, The Swingin’ Aretha Franklin (1962), Yeah!!! (1965), Soul ’69 (1969), and This Girl’s In Love With You (1969) on vinyl. I also own Who’s Zoomin’ Who (1985) on cassette, and One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism (1987) and five volumes of Aretha’s Greatest Hits on CD.
With 112 Top Ten hits, Franklin is the most charted female artist in the history. She is Barbra Streisand’s favorite female singer. With so many songs that I am crazy for, it is difficult to name just one. I thought: I Say A Little Prayer, but then I remember Pink Cadillac, but then there is also her duet with George Michael, I Knew You Were Waiting.
Franklin started out singing gospel at her minister father’s church as a child. His passionate sermons drew in Martin Luther King Jr. and Sam Cooke, whom Franklin toured with as a teenager.
In the mid-1960s, Franklin had a career that was just starting to take off. She had two R&B singles that cracked the Top 100 in 1965 and 1966, One Step Ahead and Cry Like A Baby, and she was also reaching the Easy Listening charts with the ballads You Made Me Love You. Franklin had even booked appearances on Rock ‘N’ Roll television shows like Hollywood A Go-Go and my favorite, Shindig!. But, the execs at Franklin’s record label, Columbia, didn’t really see her potential, and did not understand how to use Franklin’s early gospel background to grab an audience. Columbia’s biggest acts at the time were Simon & Garfunkel, Streisand and Bob Dylan.
In January 1967, Franklin chose not to renew her contract with Columbia after six years with the company, and she moved over to Atlantic Records. She went next to NYC to try to jump-start her career. No one could have known at the time, but the next song that Franklin recorded would go on to become one of the greatest recordings of all time.
It was produced by Jerry Wexler, the visionary record executive behind the careers of Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett, and Dusty Springfield. He chose it to open the album I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You), with Respect. If Franklin’s force-of-nature vocals on Respect aren’t impressive enough, she also simultaneously accompanies herself on piano.
Respect hit the top of the charts in May 1967 and turned Franklin into a Soul Queen, a Civil Rights Icon and a Feminist Icon. The track was a clever gender-bending version of a 1965 song by Otis Redding, whose original had reinforced the traditional family structure of the era: The man works all day, brings money home to wife and demands her respect in return.
Franklin’s version blew that structure apart. An enormous difference was that in Redding’s version, he doesn’t spell out R-E-S-P-E-C-T like Franklin does. He also doesn’t have the backup singers and their cool ”sock-it-to-me” response to Franklin’s lead. So much of what made Respect a giant hit and an empowerment anthem, came from Franklin’s own arrangement of the tune.
Despite those royalties, Redding wasn’t all that happy about Franklin’s take on his song. But, he came to accept that Respect no longer belonged to him, and he changed the way her performed it when he did it at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967. He went onstage and announced:
This next song is a song that a girl took away from me…
He used her arrangement.
Just two days before Franklin recorded the song, President Lyndon B. Johnson spoke at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., on Abraham Lincoln‘s 158th birthday. He called for an end to racism, which he condemned as:
Man’s ancient curse and man’s present shame.
Right after the release of Respect, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed an executive order that expanded affirmative-action legislation to cover sexual discrimination.
In Rolling Stone Magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs, they name Respect one of the Top Five Greatest Songs Of All Time, saying:
Franklin wasn’t asking for anything. She sang from higher ground: a woman calling an end to the exhaustion and sacrifice of a raw deal with scorching sexual authority. In short, if you want some, you will earn it.
Franklin was a Christian and was a registered Democrat. See, it is important to remember that a human can be both pious and progressive, in fact, those attributes belong together.
In late summer 2018, Franklin was reported to be gravely ill at her home in Detroit. She was under hospice care and surrounded by friends and family, including Stevie Wonder and Jesse Jackson. Franklin took her final bow that August, taken at 76 -years-old by a pancreatic tumor. She left without a will. That August day, Obama said she: “…helped define the American experience”. Civil rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton called her a “civil rights and humanitarian icon“.
A memorial service was held a few days later. Tens of thousands of fans paid their respects at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. Among those who paid tribute at the service were Ariana Grande, William Jefferson Clinton, Louis Farrakhan, Faith Hill, Fantasia, Chaka Khan, Jennifer Holliday, Jennifer Hudson, Eric Holder, Gladys Knight, Tyler Perry, and her good friend Smokey Robinson.
A tribute concert, Aretha! A Grammy Celebration for the Queen of Soul was organized by CBS and The Grammys on January 13, 2019, at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. The concert included performances by Smokey Robinson, Janelle Monáe, Alicia Keys, John Legend, Kelly Clarkson, Celine Dion, Patti LaBelle, the Jennifers, H.E.R., Brandi Carlile, and Yolanda Adams. It was recorded for television and aired on March 10.
You can now visit Franklin at Woodlawn Cemetery in Detroit.
We miss you, Aretha Louise!