RIP Aretha Franklin the Queen of Soul
I don't think it's blasphemy to say I first knew Aretha Franklin from the John Belushi cult film the Blues Brothers and her number in that film. Maybe because my family owned a greasy spoon type restaurant that it rang true to my lived experience of strong waitresses, dirty aprons and sax playing line cooks. Or, maybe it always stuck in my mind because the one time my Father saw Belushi do his cheeseburger routine my Macedonian Greek Dad got really mad.
It's not simply her voice and performances but it's also how her Black and Women's civil rights activism meshed with her singing that make her so powerful an icon today.
Aretha: From These Roots (1999 autobiography): "America's Queen of Soul recounts the story of her life, from her childhood as a minister's daughter in Detroit to her rise to success, offering insights into the faith and determination that have taken her to the top."
Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin (2014 in book and eBook): "The definitive biography of the Queen of Soul from acclaimed music writer David Ritz. Aretha Franklin began life as the golden daughter of a progressive and promiscuous Baptist preacher. Raised without her mother, she was a gospel prodigy who gave birth to two sons in her teens and left them and her native Detroit for New York, where she struggled to find her true voice. It was not until 1967, when a white Jewish producer insisted she return to her gospel-soul roots, that fame and fortune finally came via "Respect" and a rapid fire string of hits."
Aretha: The Queen of Soul (2012 regular print and large print): "Traces the life of Aretha Franklin from deserted child to teenage mother to Grammy winner to inductee into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame."
I never loved a man the way I love you: Aretha Franklin, Respect, and the Making of a Soul Music Masterpiece (2004 book): "The album that earned soul legend Aretha Franklin her fist major hits, I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You was a pop and soul music milestone. Apart from its status as a hit record, the album also had a much wider cultural impact. By early 1967, when the album was released, the Civil Rights movement was already well underway and Aretha's new music gave it its theme song. The single Respect also became a passionate call to arms for the burgeoning feminist movement".
Here's a couple of different Youtube versions of the song, both from earlier in her career, one is live and one is a studio version, notice the vastly different tempos and impact this has on the song. Did you know that Franklin reworked the lyrics somewhat to make a strong woman's presence in the song?
Then there are also the many books that put Aretha Franklin in her political, social and musical context.
Just Around Midnight: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination(book 2016): "Just around Midnight explores the interplay of popular music and racial thought in the 1960s by asking how, when, and why rock and roll music "became White."
A Bad Woman Feeling Good: Blues and the Women Who Sing Them (2005 book): " Buzzy Jackson combines biography, an appreciation of music, and a sweeping view of American history to illuminate the pivotal role of blues women in a powerful musical tradition."
Black Resonance: Iconic Women Singers and African American literature (2013 book): "Ever since Bessie Smith's powerful voice conspired with the "race records" industry to make her a star in the 1920s, African American writers have memorialized the sounds and theorized the politics of black women's singing. In Black Resonance, Emily J. Lordi analyzes writings by Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Gayl Jones, and Nikki Giovanni that engage such iconic singers as Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Mahalia Jackson, and Aretha Franklin."
The Fan Who Knew Too Much: Aretha Franklin, the Rise of the Soap Opera, Children of the Gospel Church and Other Meditations (2012 book): "Heilbut writes about Aretha Franklin, the longest-lasting female star of our time, who changed performing for women of all races. He writes about Aretha's evolution as a singer and performer (she came out of the tradition of Mahalia Jackson); before Aretha, there were only two blues-singing gospel women--Dinah Washington, who told it like it was, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who specialized, like Aretha, in ambivalence, erotic gospel, and holy blues."
Higher Ground: Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Curtis Mayfield, and the Rise and Fall of American Soul (2004 book): "one of our most insightful music writers brilliantly reinterprets the lives of three pop geniuses and the soul revolution they launched."
And if you're a singer you might like these couple of books of sheet music / scores that the Library has (did you know the Arts Department of the Toronto Reference Library has 30,000 scores, most of which you can borrow!). There's Aretha, the Queen of Soul and also
And we have an awesome CD collection you can borrow from.
We even have vinyl at the Toronto Reference Library Arts Dept (and record players too - 5th floor, come visit)
You may also enjoy the following more specialized titles:
I leave you with a few important recent performances by Aretha Franklin:
See this interesting article from the New York Times about Aretha Franklin's performance in honour of Carole King at the Kennedy Center.
Aretha Franklin Sings 'My Country, 'Tis of Thee' at Obama's Inauguration 2009 (the hat is at the Smithsonian now!)
If you're interested in music you might also like theses posts I've written in the past: