How do you convince absolutely everyone on the radio, on stage and on your countless albums? How do you become the best singer in the world? How do you sound like nobody else? How do you get a voice so silky, soulful, strong and unmistakable? The answer to all of these questions: Be Aretha Franklin.
Of course that’s impossible. There was and is only one Aretha Franklin, and there will never be another one. Even the few female vocalists who are almost as brilliant as her, such as Chaka Khan, Jennifer Hudson or Gladys Knight, will never sound like her.
Aretha Franklin outperforms everyone. She was not just a Soul or R&B singer, but a singer. Still, 17 out of her 20 Grammy Awards were given to her in Soul, Gospel or R&B rubrics. This means in spite of her brilliance she was put into the Black Music drawer all along, even though she was a Pop and ballads singer as well.
Those other three Grammys she received were special awards. She got the Legend Award, the Lifetime Achievement Award and the MusiCare Person of the Year Award.
It started with “Respect”. When some of us were still wearing diapers, in 1967, Aretha Franklin interpreted that song by the late Otis Redding. She changed the lyrics a little, so that they became a declaration of a strong woman who demands “Respect” from her man.
Her songs fascinated everyone, including the American civil rights campaign, absolutely everyone who was part of the Flower Power movement, and people who just loved beautiful message songs.
Another interpretation sung by her, “I Say a Little Prayer”, did not lead to any Grammy Awards, even though it fascinated half the world, and still does. But it does not matter. The song was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David for Dionne Warwick, another stunning singer, who made it a hit in 1966.
When Aretha Franklin was done with the same tune, it had become an even bigger hit. Back then, beauty and quality were important aspects indeed. Even today, most of us love these songs, which were recorded by Aretha half a century ago. Many classics fade over time, but not hers.
Here is something for Funk enthusiasts: In 1982, Aretha Franklin’s album “Jump to It” featured arrangements and tunes which could not have been more funky. The album was produced by none other than Luther Vandross, and slap bass master Marcus Miller came to the studio. No complaints there. “It’s Your Thing”, “Love Me Right”: The entire album is the bomb.
A great singer, and Aretha Franklin was and still is the greatest of them all, changes genres once in a while. She sang Pop tunes with Annie Lennox (a mistake, according to some fans), she interpreted Simon & Garfunkel (another one), she did “What a Fool Believes” by Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins, she sang everything.
It started in 1942, when Aretha Louise Franklin was born in Memphis. Her father was a preacher in a little church, in which she started singing more and more. Her gift was so obvious that her dad started managing her as a vocalist before she turned 15. Her first album “Songs of Faith” was recorded in 1956.
Over the years, she recorded 42 albums, while her live recordings and compilations are not even included in that number. The world wanted – and still wants – to hear Aretha Franklin. She delivered on a regular basis, in the studio, on stage, at President Barack Obama’s inauguration, and at countless other events.
The Los Angeles-based music journalist A. Scott Galloway, author of over 300 CD liner note essays and editor of the coffee table book “Down the Rhodes: The Fender Rhodes Story”, puts it this way: “Aretha Franklin (…) has nothing to prove to anyone. Her place in the Mount Rushmore of Music is on-lock, safe and secure.” Indeed.
Aretha Franklin has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, she was the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005.
On Monday, American media had reported Aretha Franklin was “seriously ill”. Her family and some friends were at her bedside, at a Detroit hospital. On Tuesday, a CNN report read the singer was in hospice care at her home.
Last year, she had already announced her retirement. Long before, she had reportedly experience health issues as well. A few years ago, there was talk about a tumor.
Then, on Thursday, Aretha Franklin died, surrounded by her family, at age 76.
She was the best. She still is. She always will be.