Say A Little Prayer: Aretha Franklin 25/03/42 – 16/08/18

 Franklin

As far as monikers go, 'Lady Soul' may well have proved a heavy load to bear for many artists. Yet Aretha Franklin, who has died at the age of 76, became the unimpeachable incumbent, the absolute personification of the genre of music that flowered from black America and grew around the whole world.

As the daughter of a Baptist preacher from Memphis, Tennessee Franklin, who grew up singing in church, had credentials others could only dream of, and her great ability to recast the ecstatic, electric energy of gospel in a secular setting, following in the footsteps of one of her sources of inspiration, Ray Charles, produced a fine body of work. The albums she cut for Atlantic between the mid-1960s and late 1970s included such gems as I Never Loved A Man The Way I Loved You, Spirit In The Dark and Young, Gifted & Black. Franklin's ability to phrase inventively, nuance her timbre and choose exactly the right moment to ratchet up her attack made memorable performances of songs such as 'Respect', 'Chain Of Fools' and 'Say A Little Prayer For You.' Her collaborations with the house bands from Muscle Shoals and Atlantic records, helmed by the great King Curtis, rank among some of the greatest in the entire history of popular music.

Having said that, she never completely discarded her gospel roots and the brilliant live album Amazing Grace became one of the biggest sellers of her career. Yet Franklin's early work as a jazz singer – she was signed to Columbia – is not to be dismissed and renditions of standards such as 'God Bless The Child', 'Skylark' and 'Misty' serve notice of her subtleties, as well as her power. Franklin continued to record up until last year, but her work was relatively inconsistent. One of her last musical golden periods was actually the early 1980s when she was produced by Luther Vandross and Marcus Miller. Two fine albums, Jump To It and Get It Right, underlined her place as a strong black woman fully deserving of all her propers in a world still marked by inequality.

Kevin Le Gendre

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