William Dart pays tribute to the recently departed Queen of Soul.
It’s strange how, in times of loss, one is unpredictably selective in searching out memories.
With the passing of Aretha Franklin, I find myself going back to 2005 to hear her introducing us to the young rapper and soulman Trey Songz.
It is more than just 30 seconds of oratory from a woman who’d grown up listening to the best from her preacher father.
How might the young Aretha Franklin herself have been introduced by legendary producer John Hammond, the man behind her 1961 teenage debut for Columbia Records?
Perhaps as a soul daughter of Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington, waiting for the new sounds of music to come.
Listening to this song I find myself drawn into Franklin’s infinite finessing of Harold Arlen’s tune.
This was just the beginning.
For decades to come, we’d watch and hear Aretha Franklin inspiring and uplifting audiences.
Venues from TV studios to vast arenas became, in their way, places of secular worship.
Her first album for the Atlantic label appeared in 1967, in the same week as the Velvet Underground and Nico album and the rather arty, hippy debut of Grateful Dead.
But once you put on Franklin’s first track – a cover of Otis Redding’s "Respect" – you were locked in for the next ten.
This first album was recorded in Muscle Shoals and Franklin recalled how producer Jerry Wexler was thrilled to have found a rhythm section of Alabama white boys who had taken a left turn into the blues – you can hear it.
That short instrumental break was every bit as funky as a Sly Stone family jam.
Franklin always rated this song as her biggest.
After all, everybody wants respect, as she put it, from the average man and woman in the street to mothers, firemen and teachers.
She also saw it as one of the battle cries of the civil rights movement.
Best of all, the Atlantic albums got Franklin back at the piano which she felt helped to Aretha-ise the music.
And you hear just this when she does Elton John’s "Border Song" or Nina Simone’s "Young, Gifted and Black".
And when she sang this Beatles song in 1970, best believe it, Aretha Franklin was Eleanor Rigby.
Aretha Franklin had Billie Holiday’s talent for transforming someone else’s song into something individual and definitive.
A few years back, Burt Bacharach told me that he was unhappy with his own version of "I Say A Little Prayer" with Dionne Warwick and that Aretha’s version was the best.
Click on the 'Listen' link to hear these tracks and more as William explores Aretha's full career through the Atlantic and Arista years, all the way to her final studio album, 2016's Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Divas, where she boldly takes on the likes of Gladys Knight, Chaka Khan, Gloria Gaynor and Adele in their own territory.
He finishes the programme, courtesy of Mediaworks, with the recent performance on The Project by Stan Walker, Bella Kalolo, and Annie Crummer of "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman".
'Song title' (Composer) – Performers
'A Message from Aretha' (Taylor) – Trey Songz
I Gotta Make It
'Gotta Make it' (Neverson et al) – Trey Songz
I Gotta Make It
'Over the Rainbow' (Arlen) – Aretha Franklin
'Jesus is Real' (Trad) – Aretha Franklin
'(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman' (King) – Aretha Franklin
'Respect' (Redding) – Aretha Franklin
I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You
'Eleanor Rigby' (Lennon/ McCartney) – Aretha Franklin
This Girl’s In Love with You
'I Say a Little Prayer' (Bacharach) – Aretha Franklin
'First Snow in Kokomo' (Franklin) – Aretha Franklin
Young, Gifted, and Black
'You Brought Me Back to Life' (McCoy) – Aretha Franklin
'School Days' (Franklin) – Aretha Franklin
Aretha (1980 album)
'It’s Your Thing' (Isley Brothers) – Aretha Franklin
Jump to It
'A Rose is Still a Rose' (Hill) – Aretha Franklin
A Rose is Still a Rose
'O Happy Day' (Hawkins) – Aretha Franklin
One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism
'Nessun Dorma' (Puccini) – Aretha Franklin
'Rolling in the Deep' (Adkins/ Epworth) – Aretha Franklin
Sings the Great Diva Classics
'(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman' (King) – Stan Walker, Bella Kalolo, Annie Crummer
(ex The Project, TV show)