Aretha Franklin (1942-2018)


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Aretha Franklin, long considered the undisputed “Queen of Soul” and one of America's most emotional and spiritual interpreters of pop, jazz and soul songs, died on Thursday at her home in Detroit. She was 76. The cause was advanced pancreatic cancer.

My Franklin obituary and appreciation for The Wall Street Journal can be found here. Yesterday, I spoke by phone with singer-songwriter Valerie Simpson about her feelings for Franklin. Valerie, who began in New York as a gospel singer and crossed over to secular recording, wrote many of soul's most important songs with her husband Nickolas Ashford:

“There was a purity to Aretha’s voice that was natural. She was a pure singer without a riff or a gimmick, just a great tone and delivery. She came from the church, where you sing from your soul to God. That translated to all of the songs she sang. There was no genre she couldn’t touch with her special feeling.

“She covered several of my songs with Nick, including Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand), You’re All I Need to Get By, Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing, I’m Every Woman and Ain’t No Mountain High Enough. She transformed those songs by putting her singular stamp on them.

“That was her gift. She was an original and had an expression and a way of phrasing notes that was all her own. She’d sit at the piano and come up with what she wanted to say on songs we thought we had already heard the final word on. She would show us one more time that a song could go deeper and soar higher.

“Aretha isn’t dead. There’s too much of her music here for that. Her presence will never be diminished or forgotten. There’ nobody left to fill her spiritual, soulful space."

Valerie (above, courtesy of Valerie Simpson) choked me up. As for Aretha, this video (42 minutes) is all you need to watch to learn everything you need to know about her and what made her special. It's from her concert with the Sweet Inspirations at Amstetrdam's Concertgebouw in April 1968...


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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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