The first time I heard of Aretha Franklin, I was about nine years old. I remember going through my mom’s records, and I came across Young, Gifted, and Black (Atlantic Records, 1972). I listened to it all the way through. Then I listened to it again, and again, and again. I remember my mother coming into the room and telling me to turn it off because she was “Aretha-ed out”.
I had obviously heard “RESPECT” before, but there was something about record covers that would spark my curiosity. You must agree that the record cover game, especially in the early ’70s (and more accurately in 1972) was COLD BLOODED. For those who have never seen it, this particular record is an all-black album cover, with Aretha on the front under a stained glass picture (appearing as if she were in church), but it’s also her on the front as a “natural woman”. No makeup, no hairdo, just a strong black woman that would relate to anyone who purchased that record.
This is particularly my favorite era of Aretha (and music as a whole), because the band she had was the greatest recorded band in history. Don’t believe me?
THE BADDEST BAND IN HISTORY:
BERNARD PURDIE- drums
CORNELL DUPREE- guitar
BILLY PRESTON- organ, piano
DONNY HATHAWAY- organ, rhodes
HUGH MCCRACKEN- guitar
ERIC GALE- bass, guitar
CHUCK RAINEY- bass
AL JACKSON- drums
DR JOHN- percussion
HUBERT LAWS- flute
THE MEMPHIS HORNS- duh…
… a band suited for a queen.
Now, as a singer myself, I cannot begin to express how much of an influence she’s had on EVERY SINGER’s career, including my own. I have never seen anyone make it look so easy. I mean, if you wanted to sell someone on the idea of being a singer, then you would probably pull your phone out and show them any Aretha Franklin clip you could find on YouTube. But more than that, she wasn’t your average singer. She went through a particular set of instances in her life to make her sing the way she did. I’m a firm believer in “singing your life”.
Let me break that down for you. “Singing your life” to me is the equivalent of an MC (rapper) talking about things he or she has never done for credibility. Which, I think we all can agree is the fakest shit ever, right? Okay… Let’s go into Aretha’s life to try and understand a little piece of why she is the “Queen Of Soul.”
For those who don’t know, Aretha was born into a family of royalty. Her father, Rev. C.L. Franklin, was the Minister of New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan. She grew up around some of the most prolific gospel and soul and R&B singers and musicians of all time! In fact, I saw a documentary of how people like Mahalia Jackson, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Dinah Washington, and Sam Cooke (to name a few) would come and stay at their house when passing through Detroit.
Aretha was born on March 25th, 1942. She started her career as a secular artist when she was 18. She was dubbed the “Queen of Soul” by the end of the ’60s. So, let’s just say that it took her under 10 years to become that, and FOR THE REST OF TIME!!!! If you’ve ever heard the record, Amazing Grace, you will hear Rev. Franklin say, “…if you wanna know the truth about it, she’s never left the church”. 20 Grammys! She’s had at least four Number One Hits In EVERY DECADE!!! So think about this… a woman who had two kids before she was 15. Just to give you an idea of this woman’s incredible life…
Let’s talk about the activist, Aretha. Did you know that she not only sang at the rallies but marched with Dr. King in Selma, Alabama? Did you know that when Angela Davis was arrested for speaking out against Black injustice, she went to work for free on a 12-city tour and took all the money and gave it to Angela to bail her out and pay her lawyers? Also, did you know that Aretha was instrumental in providing clean water to Flint, Michigan, during the water crisis (which is STILL happening, by the way)? She even made sure that after her passing, it would still be taken care of! Talk about FORESIGHT!
She got to sing for America’s first black President during the biggest inaugural to date. Not to mention, she helped to make that happen by marching, and singing, and devoting her life to the betterment of ALL OUR LIVES! There are people who marched with her who never thought they’d EVER see the day that we’d have a black President. But she did! Imagine crossing THAT finish line. And then Donald Trump had the nerve to say, “Oh, she worked for me”. THE FUCK OUTTA HERE with that shit. Let’s get this straight. She PERFORMED for you because you paid her to WORK for US!!! I digress… (hits blunt, cools down).
In closing, I’d like to share with you a moment that I had sitting at home. I watched some of her funeral (which is 10 hours long). I watched what people had to say about her, watched all the tributes, but the one thing I remember most, was that I went down an Aretha YouTube rabbit hole (which those of you who know me personally, I’ve been known to hit those pretty hard), and I came across a clip of her in 1971 with the band I mentioned earlier. And there she is. In ALL of her Glory. In a beautiful black dress, perfect short afro, singing “You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman”. The cadence of her voice, the time she took to sing this song, the care that the band took so that she could give it to correctly, I don’t think I’ve ever cried so hard and so long after watching a performance that moved me the way that it did. The very mention of it makes my eyes water. I’ll warn you though…it’s the kinda thing you watch once. You don’t watch it over and over, simply because you don’t need to.
If you are going to watch this, all I ask is to watch it the entire way through.
A couple of weeks ago at LOCKN’ Festival, some of you laughed at me for misspelling the word “RESPECT” and that’s okay, I’m good for a laugh every now and then. I eventually got it right…But just do me and yourself a favor. When you speak of her, if ever her name should leave your mouth, you’d better put some “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” on her name.
On Saturday, September 29, Nigel Hall will appear at Brooklyn Comes Alive, where Turkuaz’s Shira Elias will debut her “Soul Tracks” set honoring Aretha, as well as other classic and modern-day soul legends such as Marvin Gaye, Erykah Badu, and D’Angelo.
Nigel will appear at the event with Switch Hitters, a new project featuring Wil Blades (Dr. Lonnie Smith, Adam Deitch Quartet), Robert “Sput” Searight (Snarky Puppy, Ghost Note), and Nate Werth (Snarky Puppy, Ghost Note).
Inspired by the vibrant musical communities of Brooklyn and New Orleans, Brooklyn Comes Alive brings together more than 50 artists, allowing them to carry out passion projects, play with their musical heroes, and collaborate in never-before-seen formations. For more information, ticketing, and to see the full list of performers scheduled for Brooklyn Comes Alive 2018, head to the festival’s website here.
Brooklyn Comes Alive is sponsored by Denver-based company, Pure CBD Exchange, which creates and sells a number of CBD/cannabidiol products (What is CBD?) from concentrates, tinctures, extracts, lotions, creams, and more. The use of CBD has gained much notoriety as of late, for use as both a health and wellness supplement and to treat conditions such as epilepsy, PTSD, cancer, and a number of mental disorders and is also used for anti-inflammation, nausea reduction, sleep aid, and more. Pure CBD Exchange was co-founded by Gregg Allman Band organist/keyboardist and Brooklyn Comes Alive musician Peter Levin back in 2017.
Pure CBD Exchange focuses on low-THC cannabis products with high CBD content. They work within the Colorado Industrial Hemp pilot program to distribute non-psychoactive tinctures, extracts, lotions, and more all over the world. The company has featured by companies like VICE, High Times, Leafly, and more.