When Dr. King came to Detroit, he stayed with the Franklins. Aretha, too, joined the movement. At the same time, she yearned for larger stages. She saw how Sam Cooke had crossed over into R. In , when she was eighteen, she moved to New York and signed with Columbia Records. This marked the start of an extended apprenticeship under John Hammond, who had been behind the careers of Billie Holiday and Count Basie.
Hammond had it in his mind that Aretha should be the next great jazz singer, even though the form was no longer ascendant. On June 23, , C. Franklin helped Dr. King organize the Walk to Freedom, a march of more than a hundred thousand people through downtown Detroit. Franklin, delivered a speech filled with passages that he recycled, two months later, at the March on Washington.
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King later confided to C. She had crossed over. Leaving behind the American Songbook for a while and finding just the right blend of the church and the blues, she was now celebrated as the greatest voice in popular music.
At the same time, Franklin found that the strains of life as a star, as a mother, as a daughter to her tempestuous father were at times unbearable. Ted White, her first husband—they married in and divorced eight years later—was a jumped-up street hustler who abused her. In , when her father let a radical organization called the Republic of New Africa use the sanctuary at New Bethel, the night ended in a bloody gun battle between the group and the Detroit police.
The next year, she came out onstage, in St. Her depressions could be as deep as the dark sea. When it came time to do an autobiography, she enlisted Ritz, a skilled biographer and ghostwriter who had produced fascinating books with Ray Charles, Etta James, Bettye LaVette, and Smokey Robinson. He found her a singularly resistant subject. She insisted on stripping the book of nearly anything gritty or dark. Published in , it reads like an extended press release. It was only at the microphone, in her music, he concluded, that Franklin felt in command.
Fifteen years after the autobiography was published, and flopped, Ritz published an unauthorized biography, filled with material that he had accumulated over time from intimate personal and professional sources. The woman who emerges is a musical genius and a pivotal figure in the cultural history of the black freedom movement; she is also someone who has suffered countless losses, been mistreated in many ways, and at times has reactions that try the patience of her associates, creditors, family, and friends.
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The occasion was the Grammy Awards. Both films are now pretty easy to find—and neither is essential. Atlantic issued a recording from the concerts as a double LP, in , and it has sold two million copies, double platinum, making it the best-selling gospel record of all time. It is perhaps her most shattering and indispensable recording. By , Franklin was at her peak, with a string of hits and Grammys, but she was also preparing for a return to gospel.
She wins over a crowd more accustomed to the Mixolydian jams of the Grateful Dead.
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It is possibly the most wrenching music on the album. She delivers a pulsing, haunted version, taking flights of lyrical improvisation, note after note soaring over single syllables. In her reading, the blues always resides in gospel, and somehow this is her version of grace. I know what I do to people. I need for the bass to be where it is so I can sing. The record is an enduring achievement, but the event, like Woodstock, was something that also deserved to be seen. Pollack and his crew filmed both nights.
The sixteen-millimetre color footage was shot in the most straightforward way, but there was a problem: Pollack was not an experienced documentarian, and he and his crew failed to use clapper boards to synchronize the sound with the images. After a months-long effort to fix the problem, Warner Bros. In , Alan Elliott, a record producer, approached Pollack about the film. Pollack had cancer, and Warner Bros. Pollack agreed to work on it with him, but he died the next year. Elliott succeeded in getting the film synchronized, but he has not yet won over the subject and star of the film.
For years, he and Franklin have tussled over permissions, rights, and contracts. Judge John Kane, of the U. District Court in Colorado, held a slapped-together seventy-one-minute hearing the afternoon before the screening. Franklin testified by telephone. Elliott was proposing only to show the film to a couple of hundred people at Telluride, where the goal was to find a distributor. He told me that he has offered to pay her far more—a million dollars and half the proceeds—than she was originally promised.
Lawyers and agents came and went. Sometimes, in life, we can unwittingly self-sabotage when we want ultimate control. In Denver, Judge Kane was protective of Franklin, issuing the injunction against the screening in Telluride for that evening.
That is unlikely to occur. Watching Aretha Franklin sing from the pulpit and at the piano somehow intensifies everything heard on the record. The most touching moment in the film comes when James Cleveland gestures to C. Franklin, who is sitting up front, next to Clara Ward. The Reverend cannot resist a prideful star turn at the pulpit.
You talk about being moved, not only because Aretha is my daughter. Aretha is just a stone singer. Maybe Stevie, Ray Charles. The jazz giants like Armstrong. And she just sounds so damn good. The titans of hip-hop adore her. Fat Booty. Arriving half an hour early, I met C. The sanctuary can hold a couple of thousand worshippers, but the stream of people arriving was modest.
The days of vitality, of Paradise Valley and Black Bottom, are long gone. The workers for Ford and General Motors went South. There are few middle-class parishioners left at New Bethel. A lot of them are going off to the mega-churches.
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Franklin kept a gun in his room and fired two errant shots. One of the burglars fired back, hitting him once in the knee and once in the groin, rupturing his femoral artery. He spent five years in a coma and died. Granada is a magical and inspiring city. It made me an artistic person and I became more active and outgoing, thanks to the friendly Spanish culture.
My biggest advice is to not hang out with the rest of the Americans — talk to the locals, even if it means you will have to do a charade or two. Check out my blog for more information on the beautiful Granada! Booking with Spotahome ultimately led me to the love of my life. One evening, one of my flatmates introduced me to a friend at a salsa dance class. He brought along his roommate. His roommate loved dancing, I loved dancing and he asked me to go out with his friend who was visiting.
And then I met his friend — Jose. Soon we became head over heels in love with each other and after I left Granada, he came to Canada to live with me for four months and I just visited him in Spain for Christmas holidays.