Calling Aretha Franklin a giant… well, I’m not sure even that word does her justice.
Aretha Franklin, universally acclaimed as the “Queen of Soul” and one of America’s greatest singers in any style, died on Thursday at her home in Detroit. She was 76.
The cause was advanced pancreatic cancer, her publicist, Gwendolyn Quinn, said.
In her indelible late-1960s hits, Ms. Franklin brought the righteous fervor of gospel music to secular songs that were about much more than romance. Hits like “Do Right Woman — Do Right Man,” “Think,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and “Chain of Fools” defined a modern female archetype: sensual and strong, long-suffering but ultimately indomitable, loving but not to be taken for granted…
Ms. Franklin had a grandly celebrated career. She placed more than 100 singles in the Billboard charts, including 17 Top 10 pop singles and 20 No. 1 R&B hits. She received 18 competitive Grammy Awards, along with a lifetime achievement award in 1994. She was the first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, in 1987, its second year. She sang at the inauguration of Barack Obama in 2009, at pre-inauguration concerts for Jimmy Carter in 1977 and Bill Clinton in 1993, and at both the Democratic National Convention and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral in 1968.
Iconic. The greatest female vocalist of my lifetime. All of that, and maybe more.
This may be her earliest recording, from when she was around 14 or so.
That is astonishing.
And here’s a wonderful story about her cover of “I Say a Little Prayer,” written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David.
In a candid 2010 interview with NPR, David and Bacharach both laughed trying to describe how good Franklin’s version was.
“It’s a better record than the record we made,” Bacharach told Fresh Air host Terry Gross.
“Mmhmm. We did, yeah. And we did a great record, but she topped it,” David added.
When Gross prodded them a little more, they told her to listen to it, that you can just hear it in the effortless way Franklin sings and how the arrangement is crafted to enhance that. That Franklin sings the song as if it were a dress designed just for her.
“It’s just more natural,” Bacharach said. “We were talking about our changes and time changes on the chorus of ‘forever and forever, you stay in my heart, and I will’ — you know, that’s going 4-4, 3-4, 4-4, 3-4. Then regard the way it was treated by Aretha, because Aretha just makes it seamless, the transition going from one change to another change. You never notice it.”
Well, you’ll notice this.
Hers was a nonpareil talent. Saying that she’ll be missed seems like an inadequate tribute. Knock ’em dead in heaven, Queen.