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Aretha Franklin: The Voice

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MUSIC CLIP - OSCAR PETERSON, "MOONGLOW"

Welcome to Afterglow, I’m your host, Mark Chilla.

This week, I pay tribute to the Queen of Soul, and perhaps the greatest voice of the last century, the one-and-only Aretha Franklin. Franklin was an icon, and when she stepped in front of a microphone, she could do no wrong. Her career was a curious one, too: emerging as a promising gospel singer in the late 1950s, she was signed by Columbia records to be the next pop star in the style of Dinah Washington. But it wasn’t until 1967 when she signed to Atlantic records that her true voice emerged as the Queen of Soul. This hour, I’ll discuss some of the highlights of her career in the 1960s and 70s.

It’s Aretha Franklin: The Voice, coming up next on Afterglow.

MUSIC - ARETHA FRANKLIN, "A CHANGE GONNA COME"

Aretha Franklin with “A Change Gonna Come,” a song written by fellow soul artist Sam Cooke. Like Franklin, Cooke moved from the world of gospel to the world of pop. Cooke was even a member of Aretha’s father’s church, and Aretha idolized Cooke. She included this civil rights anthem of his on her first all-soul record I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You for Atlantic in 1967. Aretha adds an opening verse to the song, like something you might hear in a standard from the Great American Songbook. Her verse is a tribute to Cooke, referring to her old friend and the song he wrote that touched her heart.

MUSIC CLIP - SAM COOKE, "A CHANGE GONNA COME"

MUSIC CLIP - STANLEY TURRENTINE, "DR. FEELGOOD"

Mark Chilla here on Afterglow. On this show, I’m paying tribute to the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, and some of the highlights from her early career. Franklin’s career lasted well into the 21st century. And in the 1980s and 90s, she continued to churn out pop hits. But it was the period roughly between 1960 and 1972 that Aretha Franklin shined, and that’s what I’ll focus on this hour.

To start however, we’ll go back to the late 1950s, with a teenage Aretha Franklin singing in the Detroit church of her father, the famed pastor C.L. Franklin. C.L.’s sermons were recorded and disseminated, famous among African Americans all around the country. People like gospel icons Mahalia Jackson and Clara Ward, Sam Cooke, Art Tatum, and Martin Luther King, Jr. were regulars in C.L.’s New Bethel Baptist Church. From a young age, Aretha mastered the expressive cadences of gospel music.

This is an early recording of a 14-year-old Aretha Franklin, sounding amazingly mature, singing the gospel tune “There Is A Fountain Filled With Blood,” on Afterglow...

MUSIC CLIP - ARETHA FRANKLIN, "THERE IS A FOUNTAIN FILLED WITH BLOOD"

Aretha Franklin with one of her first gospel recordings from 1956.

When Aretha turned 18, C.L. Franklin fully supported his daughter’s pop singing aspirations. She rejected offers from RCA and her hometown label Motown to sign with Columbia, one of the most prestigious record labels. Columbia’s A&R man John Hammond, the same man who discovered Billie Holiday decades earlier, wasn’t sure how to market a gospel singer in the pop music scene. So for years, Columbia tried the same techniques that they always had used with other jazz singers: provide them with a good pop standard, a background of some light jazz instrumentation and possibly some strings, and let them shine.

It was a tried and true method, and Aretha’s voice did shine. But Aretha’s voice contained a depth and power not heard in pop music. What might have once worked for Doris Day or Rosemary Clooney was not going to work for Aretha Franklin.

Here she is in 1962, one of her earliest recordings for Columbia. The song is an old standard written back in 1932. Aretha’s voice is vibrant here, but the arrangement seems to be stuck in the previous decade.

This is Aretha Franklin with “Try A Little Tenderness,” on Afterglow

MUSIC - ARETHA FRANKLIN, "TRY A LITTLE TENDERNESS"

Aretha Franklin in 1962 with the old standard “Try A Little Tenderness.” This was actually the first song that Aretha ever performed on American Bandstand, but it never caught on with the public. Otis Redding would later transform “Try A Little Tenderness” into a soul anthem 1966. Aretha Franklin would similarly transform an Otis Redding tune in 1967, but more on that later.

The Columbia years for Aretha were not as bad as they’re often made out to be. They only seem bad in retrospect after her amazing commercial and artistic success for Atlantic records in the late 1960s. While her recordings with Columbia didn’t sell or resonate with the public, they still feature the singer as you’re used to hearing her. Aretha’s gospel roots were impossible to hide—Aretha Franklin always sounds like Aretha Franklin, and she had the ability to transform any song into an Aretha Franklin song, even in her younger years. The reason that these Columbia records are often thought of as a “failure” has more to do with marketing than anything Franklin did as a performer.

For instance, here are a few Columbia songs that are unquestionably soulful Aretha before she was dubbed the Queen of Soul. This first one comes from an album she made in tribute to the late Dinah Washington, a jazz and R&B singer Franklin admired. She doesn’t emulate Washington, but rather makes it her own.

This is Aretha Franklin in 1964 with “Cold, Cold Heart,” on Afterglow.

MUSIC - ARETHA FRANKLIN, "COLD, COLD HEART"

MUSIC - ARETHA FRANKLIN, "LEE CROSS"

Aretha Franklin in 1964 with “Lee Cross,” an R&B number written by Ted White, who was both her husband and manager at the time. Before that, we heard her the same year with “Cold, Cold Heart,” a song written by Hank Williams and recorded by Dinah Washington, one of Aretha’s idols. Both of those tracks were recorded for Columbia Records.

Her Columbia record contract expired in 1966, and with them unable to make her a bankable star, Aretha opted not to renew and signed with the more R&B focused Atlantic records.

Atlantic records was where Franklin flourished. She began to accompany herself on the piano more, taking more control over the rhythm and feel of her recordings and letting her gospel roots shine.

Her breakout hit came almost immediately in 1967. She had been used to taking other people’s songs and transforming them into her own, and that was certainly the case with “Respect,” a song by soul singer Otis Redding. Redding’s original in 1965 is a jumpy, desperate plea from a man, wanting respect from his lover. 

MUSIC CLIP - OTIS REDDING, "RESPECT"

Franklin’s on the other hand is a steady, assured proclamation from a woman’s point of view, not merely wanting respect but demanding it. It became a rallying cry for feminists and civil rights activists in the late 1960s.

Here’s Aretha with that song now, on Afterglow

MUSIC - ARETHA FRANKLIN, "RESPECT"

Aretha Franklin with her signature song from 1967, “Respect.” Her sisters Carolyn and Erma were providing the background vocals. It was Aretha’s idea to add the “sock it to mes,” and the R-E-S-P-E-C-T part to the song, departing from Otis Redding’s original.

One thing that distinguished Aretha Franklin’s Atlantic recordings was the sensuality she brought to her performances. Many of her songs were love songs (good or bad love), and Aretha’s voice was able to capture all of the raw nuances of that emotion: heartbreak, desire, lust, devotion, infatuation—it was all innately tied into her soulful voice.

Here now are three sensual love songs from Aretha Franklin, beginning in 1967 with her single “I Never Loved A Man (The Way That I Loved You), on Afterglow.

MUSIC - ARETHA FRANKLIN, "I NEVER LOVED A MAN (THE WAY THAT I LOVED YOU)"

MUSIC - ARETHA FRANKLIN, "GOOD TO ME AS I AM TO YOU"

MUSIC - ARETHA FRANKLIN, "(YOU MAKE ME FEEL LIKE) A NATURAL WOMAN"

Aretha Franklin in 1968 with the Carole King and Gerry Goffin classic “You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman.” Before that, we heard her the same year off of the same album Lady Soul with an original song called “Good To Me As I Am To You.” A young Eric Clapton was featured there on electric guitar. And starting that set, Aretha Franklin with “I Never Loved A Man The Way That I Loved You,” from her debut album for Atlantic Records in 1967.

MUSIC CLIP - GEORGE BENSON, "A NATURAL WOMAN"

Coming up after a short break, we’ll hear more music from the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin.

I’m Mark Chilla, and you’re listening to Afterglow

 

MUSIC CLIP - HERBIE MANN, "CHAIN OF FOOLS"

MUSIC CLIP - ARETHA FRANKLIN, "CHAIN OF FOOLS"

Welcome back to Afterglow, I’m Mark Chilla. We’ve been exploring the music of the late soul singer Aretha Franklin, an American icon and a legend of popular music in the 20th century. 

Franklin became known for her covers, transforming songs once made famous by another artist into her own soulful anthem. That was the case for Otis Redding’s “Respect,” The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby,” Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” Dionne Warwick’s “I Say A Little Prayer,” Ben E. King’s “Spanish Harlem,” The Band’s “The Weight,” Dusty Springfield’s “Son Of A Preacher Man,” Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me,” and so many others.

But one thing that we sometimes forget about Franklin was that she was also a songwriter. Especially in her Atlantic career, many of her biggest hits were originals. Franklin’s originals were deeply personal, a reflection on a life that—despite her fame and fortune—was often troubled. She had her first child before she was even a teenager, her marriage to Ted White throughout the 1960s was often abusive, and on top of it all, she was subject to much of the same racism that any African-American artist, no matter how famous, faced in the 1950s and 60s.

Her songs were outlets for her emotions, a way for her to channel frustration or her desire for freedom. Here are two of those original songs now, beginning with her 1968 song “Think,” on Afterglow.

MUSIC - ARETHA FRANKLIN, "THINK"

MUSIC - ARETHA FRANKLIN, "SPIRIT IN THE DARK"

Two original songs from Aretha Franklin. Just now, we heard her in 1970 with “Spirit In The Dark,” a single off of her album of the same name. And before that in 1968 with her original song “Think.”

Aretha Franklin had one of the most singularly iconic voices of the 20th century. But surprisingly, she was also very stylistically diverse, equally adept at soul, gospel, rock, blues, jazz, or funk. Her voice, however, was not chameleon-like. She never adapted it to fit the style of one genre or another, rather her voice was so powerful that the genre seemed to bend to her will, becoming an Aretha Franklin song by association, but not losing its original character.

Take this song for instance, “Rock Steady” from 1971…

MUSIC CLIP - ARETHA FRANKLIN, "ROCK STEADY" 

This is clearly a funk tune in the style of the Isley Brothers or James Brown, but Aretha’s voice fits perfectly, as if she had always been singing funk.

Just two years earlier, Franklin showed that she was also comfortable singing more straight-ahead jazz. On her Atlantic album curiously titled Soul ‘69, Franklin sang alongside many of Count Basie’s sidemen to create something that toed the line between jazz, blues, swing, R&B, but still unquestionably Aretha Franklin.

Here she is with the song “Ramblin’” from the album Soul ‘69 on Afterglow.

MUSIC - ARETHA FRANKLIN, "RAMBLIN'"

Aretha Franklin at her jazziest with the Big Maybelle song “Ramblin’,” featuring Fathead Newman on tenor saxophone. That comes from Franklin’s 1969 album Soul ‘69.

To close off this tribute to the late Aretha Franklin, I’ll play something that I think captures her in her essence. It’s a live performance taken from her 1971 record Live at The Fillmore West and Aretha performing her original song “Dr. Feelgood.” This is not merely a song sung live, it’s a religious experience, with Franklin fully channeling the preacher energy of her father C.L. Franklin. As she’s performing the song, it’s almost like “Dr. Feelgood” transforms from a lover to Jesus Christ himself, with Aretha seeking a different kind of salvation.

So, let’s now go to church with Aretha Franklin in 1971 Live at the Fillmore West with her song “Dr. Feelgood,” on Afterglow.

MUSIC - ARETHA FRANKLIN, "DR. FEELGOOD [LIVE"

Aretha Franklin live at the Fillmore West in 1971 with “Dr. Feelgood,” and thanks for tuning into this tribute to the regal, iconic Aretha Franklin on Afterglow.

MUSIC CLIP - WES MONTGOMERY, "I SAY A LITTLE PRAYER"

Afterglow is part of the educational mission of Indiana University, and produced by WFIU Public Radio in beautiful Bloomington, Indiana. The executive producer is John Bailey.

Playlists for this and other Afterglow programs are available on our website. That’s at indianapublicmedia.org/afterglow.

I’m Mark Chilla, and join me next week for our mix of Vocal Jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook, here on Afterglow

Aretha Franklin, Live at the Filmore West (Album Cover)

This week, I pay tribute to the Queen of Soul, and perhaps the greatest voice of the last century, the one-and-only Aretha Franklin. Franklin was an icon, and when she stepped in front of a microphone, she could do no wrong. Her career was a curious one, too: emerging as a promising gospel singer in the late 1950s, she was signed by Columbia Records to be the next pop star in the style of Dinah Washington. But it wasn’t until 1967 when she signed to Atlantic Records that her true voice emerged as the Queen of Soul. On this episode, I’ll discuss some of the highlights of her career in the 1960s and 70s.

[This episode originally aired September 21, 2018, one month after Aretha Franklin's death at age 76]


Gospel Roots

Aretha Franklin started her singing career in the 1950s in the Detroit church of her father, the famed pastor C. L. Franklin. C. L.’s sermons were recorded and disseminated, famous among African Americans all around the country. People like gospel icons Mahalia Jackson and Clara Ward, Sam Cooke, Art Tatum, and Martin Luther King, Jr. were regulars in C. L.’s New Bethel Baptist Church. It was here that Aretha, from a young age, mastered the expressive cadences of gospel music.

Columbia Records

When Aretha turned 18, C. L. Franklin fully supported his daughter’s pop singing aspirations. She rejected offers from RCA and her hometown label Motown to sign with Columbia, one of the most prestigious record labels. Columbia’s A&R man John Hammond, the same man who discovered Billie Holiday decades earlier, wasn’t sure how to market a gospel singer in the pop music scene. So for years, Columbia tried the same techniques that they always had used with other jazz singers: provide them with a good pop standard, a background of some light jazz instrumentation and possibly some strings, and let them shine.

It was a tried and true method, and Aretha’s voice did shine. But Aretha’s voice contained a depth and power not heard in pop music. What might have once worked for Doris Day or Rosemary Clooney was not going to work for Aretha Franklin.

While her voice might be vibrant on a song like "Try A Little Tenderness," an old standard written back in 1932 that became Aretha's first big single for Columbia, the arrangement seems to be stuck in the previous decade. She even performed this song on American Bandstand, her first appearance on the show, but made no waves with the public.

The Columbia years for Aretha were not as bad as they’re often made out to be. They only seem bad in retrospect after her amazing commercial and artistic success for Atlantic records in the late 1960s. While her recordings with Columbia didn’t sell or resonate with the public, they still feature the singer as you’re used to hearing her. Aretha’s gospel roots were impossible to hide—Aretha Franklin always sounds like Aretha Franklin, and she had the ability to transform any song into an Aretha Franklin song, even in her younger years. The reason that these Columbia records are often thought of as a “failure” has more to do with marketing than anything Franklin did as a performer. 

For instance, on songs like "Cold, Cold Heart" and "Lee Cross," she sounds unquestionably like the soulful Aretha Franklin that we all know. However, Columbia failed to market her as a fresh, soulful voice, preferring to emphasize some of her more traditional songs.

Atlantic Records

Her Columbia record contract expired in 1966, and with them unable to make her a bankable star, Aretha opted not to renew and signed with the more R&B focused Atlantic RecordsAtlantic records was where Franklin flourished. She began to accompany herself on the piano more, taking more control over the rhythm and feel of her recordings and letting her gospel roots shine.

Her breakout hit came almost immediately in 1967. She had been used to taking other people’s songs and transforming them into her own, and that was certainly the case with “Respect,” a song by soul singer Otis Redding. Redding’s original in 1965 is a jumpy, desperate plea from a man, wanting respect from his lover. Franklin’s on the other hand is a steady, assured proclamation from a woman’s point of view, not merely wanting respect but demanding it. It became a rallying cry for feminists and civil rights activists in the late 1960s. It was Aretha and her sisters’ idea to add the “sock it to mes,” and the R-E-S-P-E-C-T part to the song, departing from Otis Redding’s original.

One thing that distinguished Aretha Franklin’s Atlantic recordings was the sensuality she brought to her performances. Many of her songs, like "I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You," "Good To Me As I Am To You," or "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman," were love songs (good or bad love). Aretha’s voice was able to capture all of the raw nuances of that emotion: heartbreak, desire, lust, devotion, infatuation—it was all innately tied into her soulful voice.

The Voice

Franklin became known for her covers, transforming songs once made famous by another artist into her own soulful anthem. That was the case for Otis Redding’s “Respect,” The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby,” Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” Dionne Warwick’s “I Say A Little Prayer,” Ben E. King’s “Spanish Harlem,” The Band’s “The Weight,” Dusty Springfield’s “Son Of A Preacher Man,” Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me,” and so many others.

But one thing that we sometimes forget about Franklin was that she was also a songwriter. Especially in her Atlantic career, many of her biggest hits were originals. Franklin’s originals were deeply personal, a reflection on a life that—despite her fame and fortune—was often troubled. She had her first child before she was even a teenager, her marriage to Ted White throughout the 1960s was often abusive, and on top of it all, she was subject to much of the same racism that any Black artist, no matter how famous, faced in the 1950s and 60s.

Her songs were outlets for her emotions, a way for her to channel frustration or her desire for freedom, and songs like "Think" and "Spirit In The Dark" capture these emotions for Aretha.

Aretha Franklin had one of the most singularly iconic voices of the 20th century. But surprisingly, she was also very stylistically diverse, equally adept at soul, gospel, rock, blues, jazz, or funk. Her voice, however, was not chameleon-like. She never adapted it to fit the style of one genre or another, rather her voice was so powerful that the genre seemed to bend to her will, becoming an Aretha Franklin song by association, but not losing its original character.

The soul of Aretha Franklin's voice, however,  was her gospel sound. Her live performance showcased her fully channeling the preacher energy of her father C.L. Franklin. On a song like "Dr. Feelgood" from her 1971 record Live at The Fillmore West, she's not merely singing the song live, but transforming the concert into a religious experience. At the same time, she transforms the “Dr. Feelgood” in the song from a lover to Jesus Christ himself, with Aretha seeking a different kind of salvation.

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