Tail of the Weak 3.36
Updated: Jan 25
Tail of the Weak is a series of insights and musical memories from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin, singer/songwriter and founder of the Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival, from Waycross, Georgia.
The little 10-year old girl strode in front of the Sunday morning congregation as the featured soloist for the first time at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan, where her daddy, the Reverend C. L. Franklin sermonized. Aretha opened her mouth to sing “Jesus, Be a Fence Around Me”, just days after her mother, Barbara, had passed away.
I'm sure the audience that morning had no idea that the little lady standing in front of them would go on to gain the respect of the world and wear the title, 'Queen of Soul', over the next 66 years. A title so well-deserved considering her multi-talents—skillful pianist infused with the gospel fervor of her daddy's church—talented songwriter of career hits, “Day Dreaming”, “Rock Steady”, and “Think”—and soul-stirring vocalist, with a voice that transcended generations and musical genres.
Aretha Louise Franklin was born at 406 Lucy Avenue on March 25, 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee. At the tender age of 18, she signed on with Columbia Records, with very little success over the next six years. In '66, after switching labels to Ahmet Ertegun's Atlantic Records—home to Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett, Sam and Dave, and Otis Redding—her star began to rise.
By the end of the 60s, following the success of classic Aretha songs, “Respect”, “Chain of Fools”, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”, “Think”, and “Spanish Harlem”, she was aptly crowned the 'Queen of Soul'. 1967's “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You) was her first number one on the R&B chart, recorded at FAME Studios and backed by the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. In April of the same year, Aretha hit number one on both the R&B and Billboard Top 100 charts with Otis Redding's hot-o-mighty-injected “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”. When I first heard it, I couldn't help but s-h-i-m-m-y—and, as shimmiers go, I weren't much of one. The Queen of Soul's soul-stirring interpretations of other songwriter's material was a win-win for everybody involved, and included some of the finest in the music business.
“Do Right Woman, Do Right Man”, written by Chips Moman and Dan Penn—
“Chain of Fools”, written by Don Covay, featuring the greasy, tremolo-tinged lead guitar lick played by the famous Georgia songwriter, Joe South—Carole King and Gerry Goffin's “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”—Burt Bacharach and Hal David's “I Say a Little Prayer”— “Spanish Harlem” by Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller, and Phil Spector—and the beautiful “Until You Come Back to Me”, written by Stevie Wonder, Morris Broadnax, and Clarence Paul.
Working with Tom Dowd and Jerry Wexler, two of the most-gifted record producers in their day, Aretha was just as prolific and successful writing her own hits, like “Rock Steady”—with Donny Hathaway on electric piano, Bernard Purdie on drums, Chuck Rainey on bass guitar, Cornell Dupree on guitar, and Dr. John on percussion, the song oozes funk—“Think”, cowritten with her husband at the time, Ted White, and made even more popular in the diner scene of the movie, The Blues Brothers, where Aretha scolded and deep-fried her on-screen husband, guitarist
Matt “Guitar” Murphy—and “Day Dreaming”, her dreamlike and slightly psychedelic hit from April 1972.
Over her career, she's been rightfully honored—18-time Grammy Award-winner—a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame—first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Honoree—Grammy Lifetime Achievement and Grammy Legend Awards—induction into the UK Music Hall of Fame, the GMA Gospel Music Hall of Fame, and the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame—honorary degree from Harvard—honorary doctorates in music from Princeton, Yale, and Brown Universities and Berklee College of Music.
The Queen of Soul passed away on August 16, surrounded by friends and family. She was only 76. Following her performance at the Kennedy Center Honors, President Barack Obama had this to say about Aretha, “Nobody embodies more fully the connection between the African-American spiritual, the blues, R&B, rock and roll—the way that hardship and sorrow were transformed into something full of beauty and vitality and hope”.
Her former producer, Jerry Wexler, described her voice as “not that of a child but rather of an ecstatic hierophant”—that one, I had to look up, Jerry. From the ancient Greeks, a hierophant is a person who brings religious congregants into the presence of that which is deemed holy.
From the first time she ever sang in front of people on the stage of her daddy's Detroit church in 1952, Aretha Franklin's voice has moved millions—has graced the turntables of young and old around the world—and was the envy of angels above.
To top it all off, her beautiful mezzo-soprano was declared a Michigan “natural resource” in 1985—and, we've all been drinking from that well for a long, long time.
21st Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival
Advance 3-Day Passes:
Memories straight from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin
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