"Respect," "Chain of Fools," "Natural Woman," "I Say a Little Prayer," "Since You've Been Gone," "Rock Steady"....
She was an expert musician and a smart singer. She could adapt her style for the changing times to make her work stand out in the 80s the way it did in the 60s. She'd continue to do that.
A lot will be written about her today and through the weekend. There will be special tributes and pieces with writing far, far superior to time. Nevertheless, I wanted to write a little something -- and share one of my favorite examples of how Aretha Franklin could go into areas outside of the rhythm and blues workshop to embrace a tune and make it her own.
To me, Aretha not only took you to church with the majesty of her gospel-fueled voice, she was a great actress. A great actress who did not technically act in films the way other sings who won Oscar nominations for their performances did -- singers like Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Doris Day, Bing Crosby, Barbra Streisand and Diana Ross, to name a few. Nevertheless, like those fellow vocalists, Aretha Franklin realized that a good song is a monologue. It tells a story. It has an emotional life. She gave each song that life.
Remember how fanboy happy Frank Sinatra was as a presenter on the Academy Awards right after Aretha Franklin had sung the Best Song Oscar nominee, "Funny Girl," from the 1968 movie FUNNY GIRL starring Barbra Streisand?
Betty Hutton, one of the top Hollywood musical comedy stars of the 1940s to early 50s, had one of her biggest hits with the 1947 film, THE PERILS OF PAULINE. In that film, Hutton introduced a Frank Loesser tune that got an Oscar nomination for Best Song. Here's the Aretha Franklin rendition of "I Wish I Didn't Love You So" from 1947's THE PERILS OF PAULINE.
Aretha Franklin was friends with and was a Civil Rights activist with Dr. Martin Luther King when we Black Americans were demanding respect -- demanding the right to vote, the right to an education, the right to housing and the right to equal opportunities in the workplace. When Dr. King voiced opposition to the Vietnam War, money from donors started to decrease rapidly. Aretha sang to raise funds for Dr. King. She sang at Dr. King's funeral after his voice was stilled by a racist assassin's bullet in 1968. Decades later, in 2009, she sang at the inauguration of America's first Black president, Barack Obama. What a life. What a legend. Aretha Franklin was peerless and fearless. May she rest in peace.