2016 was a rough year. Before February was over, David Bowie had died, as had Paul Kantner, Maurice White, Otis Clay and Glenn Frey, among others.
So I put together a series of posts intended to show appreciation for some music greats while they were still with us: Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Tina Turner. Then I followed up with a post listing four more performers to be appreciated while they were still with us.
In none of those posts was there a mention of Aretha Franklin, who also was still with us at the time, and who certainly was worthy of appreciation. Now that she’s gone, I feel bad that I didn’t properly appreciate her tremendous talent.
In the wake of Aretha’s passing, Sirius XM turned its Soul Town channel into an Aretha Franklin tribute channel. For the past 11 days, it’s been all Aretha, all the time. I’ve heard deep cuts that go well beyond any of my few Aretha records.
After 11 days of Aretha, I’m exhausted. She has worn me out.
Ike and Tina proclaimed “We nevah, evah, do nothing nice and easy.”
Well, Aretha nevah, evah, did anything nice and easy, either.
Aretha testified! Aretha brought forth that gale force of a gospel voice in song after song, in style after style, in decade after decade. Aretha was relentless.
After 11 days of Aretha, I find myself in the same place as my friend Greg, who wrote this over at Echoes in the Wind on the day after she died.
“So why do I feel I have I so little to say? Because Aretha Franklin as a subject for eulogy, memoir or memorial is too damned big. She towers over the music world in a way that few artists do. So I don’t know where to start or to end or even what to put in or leave out.”
I’ll try. Here is my testimony.
I first heard Aretha testify in the late ’60s, perhaps while listening to WLS radio out of Chicago as we drove around southern Wisconsin with our older cousins during the summer.
Perhaps I first saw Aretha testify while watching a variety show, the kind my dad loved. I would have been 10, 11, maybe 13. Was it two nights after Christmas 1967, when Aretha sang “Respect” on “The Kraft Music Hall” with Woody Allen as the host? Was it Saturday night, Nov. 2, 1968, when Aretha appeared on “The Hollywood Palace” with Sammy Davis Jr. delivering a most memorable introduction? Was it Friday night, Oct. 9, 1970, when Aretha sang “I Say A Little Prayer” on “The Tom Jones Show” and duetted with Tom?
“Spanish Harlem” was the first Aretha song I came to know well. I was 14 when that came out in the late summer of 1971, a year I spent glued to my AM radio, listening to WOKY radio out of Milwaukee.
Then Aretha fell off my radar until I was in my 20s. I dug her in “The Blues Brothers” in 1980 — as did everyone else — and then she roared back onto the charts in 1985. I loved Eurythmics, so of course I loved Aretha’s duet with Annie Lennox on “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves.”
About that time, I bought “Aretha’s Gold,” a greatest-hits comp from 1969, the stuff I knew from radio and TV. For probably 20 years, that was the only Aretha record I had. Then I sold it and started collecting and exploring some of her great LPs on Atlantic. Those are my records at the top of this mea culpa.
And now, Aretha testifies.
“Son Of A Preacher Man” and “The Weight,” Aretha Franklin, from “This Girl’s In Love With You,” 1970. Duane Allman plays guitar on “The Weight.”