Aretha Franklin, for fifty years the Queen of Soul, with a voice of unique quality and who suffered a difficult and troubled life, has died at the age of 76. Jumoke Fashola hears from musicians, fans and producers from different parts of the world about what made Aretha Franklin’s music special. It Includes contributions from South African singer Lira, American musician Valerie June, record company mogul Clive Davis, producer Narada Michael Walden, singer Sarah Dash and music journalist David Nathan.
In The Wall Street Journal this week, I wrote the Aretha Franklin obituary (go here). Aretha was a complex artist. A woman with enormous vocal power and talent, she often was at the mercy of men who made decisions on her behalf at record labels, concerts and even at home. Many of these men didn’t always serve her well. In some ways, Franklin’s career happened in spite of their bad decisions.
My strongest memory of Franklin was attending her lavish birthday party in March 2012 at the Helmsley Park Lane Hotel on Central Park South. It was held in a small ballroom, and as I recall she didn’t arrive until everyone had just about finished eating. I still have the menu, and it was pretty spectacular.
When Aretha arrived, she was wearing a grey fur. She sat and quickly began holding court. The person who invited me eventually got me in front of her. We spoke for about 30 seconds before someone else was squeezed in. I don’t remember if she looked at me while we spoke. I do recall that Aretha had a look of blank disinterest, an expression I’ve seen turn up in many videos over the years. As a result, one never really knew how she felt or what mattered to her at any given moment. I also never could figure out whether Aretha liked playing that role or felt it was expected of her so she did so. Perhaps it was a little of both.
At the end of the day, none of this matters. Aretha was a woman who was pulled in a million different directions and was fine with all of it. My sense is that the only time she was herself was on stage, putting audiences in a trance with her voice.
Also in the WSJ, I interviewed R.L. Stine, one of the most successful authors known to mankind (go here). Bob is the writer of the Goosebumps and Fear Street series of horror stories for kids. His own childhood was a trip. He loved horror comics but his mother wouldn’t let him bring them in the house. So each Saturday he went for a haircut because there was a stack of them there. As Bob said, “I had less hair then than I do now.” Bob is so funny.
And finally, in case you missed my WSJ review of the new Erroll Garner album, Nightconcert, go here. The music at the live concert at Amsterdam’ Concertgebouw in November 1964 is extraordinary. The album’s sound is terrific as well.
Lydia MacDonald was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, to an Italian mother and Scottish father. After the liberation of Italy, she went to sing in Italy, where she become a favorite vocalist of Piero Piccioni, one of the great composers of the Italian cinema. I’ll let David Chilver, MacDonald’s nephew, pick it up from here:
“During World War II, my aunt sang for the U.S. and U.K. Forces Networks and with the Ted Heath Orchestra in England as the band’s first female vocalist. Then she returned to Italy where she focused on being a movie-soundtrack artist from the 1950s to the early 1970s. Unfortunately, few examples of her recorded work survive.
“However, just recently, the clip below appeared on YouTube. It is evocative of its time in the early 1960s . This is a good example of Lydia singing a catchy pop song in Italian and shows off her voice and style to good effect. The film with which it had some soundtrack connection became something of a classic featuring as it did the great Jeanne Moreau, Marcello Mastroianni and others.
“The arrangement is by a gentleman named Elvio Favella—a somewhat obscure figure. There is, however, a big band CD of his available on Amazon and he appears to have been a mentor to the well regarded (and sometimes avant-garde) Italian pianist Giorgio Gaslini.”
Here’s the clip…
Bob Bain. A tribute to the late guitarist and Henry Mancini Orchestra regular will be held at the Sportsmen’s Lodge Events Center, 12833 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, on Sunday, August 19th at 4 p.m. Here’s Bain’s signature opening to My One and Only Love on The Mancini Touch (1960), featuring Dick Nash on trombone and Bain playing obbligatos…
Terry Pollard. Last week, Michael Weeden, son of pianist and vibraphonist Terry Pollard and head of the Terry Jean Pollard Music Foundation, wrote to let me know that a street in Detroit was finally named in his mother’s honor. For more information, go here and here.
What the heck. Here’s Sarah Vaughan singing Detour Ahead in March 1958, with Ronnell Bright accompanying on piano, Richard Davis on bass and Roy Haynes on drums, with Henry Coker on trombone, recorded in the early hours of the morning at Chicago’s London House…
Oddball album cover of the week.
So many questions. Has the tenor saxophone floated high up in the air or did it mysteriously swell to a size that exceeds its case. Why is the model posing so awkwardly? Is that her necklace of black beads or the strap for the horn? Is that a mirror on the left? What does any of it have to do with soulfulness? And where’s Jug?
McEuen’s fascinating new book, “The Life I’ve Picked,” details his storied past and the innovative efforts he’s put forth with notable friends and on his own. Who better then to offer a list of indelible albums that leave a lingering influence?