Swansong For The Soul Queen

Soul legend Aretha Franklin announced last week that she plans to retire from music to spend more time with her grandchildren. She’s been performing since she was a teenager, but has been suffering from ill health in recent years. At one point, her career had to be put on hold due to surgery.

It goes without saying that she’s a great singer due to her vocal flexibility. For those of you who are not yet acquainted with this remarkable lady, I would say an excellent place to start would be at the beginning. Songs Of Faith, her debut album, was recorded live when she was only 14(!) at New Bethel Baptist Church where her father was Reverend. A quote I like comes from music journalist/producer Jerry Wexler, who when describing her voice said it “was not that of a child but rather of an ecstatic hierophant”. In fact it was Wexler who paired her with the famous Muscle Shoals rhythm section when she moved to Atlantic Records, which in turn led to her most fiery performances.

Then, there was her image and her outfits. From bouffant hairdos in the 1960s, to extravagant dresses covered in mink fur in the 1970s, to evening gowns in the 1980s. She had more than 20 number one singles in the US, she was the first woman to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, she won the Grammy for best R&B vocal performance for eight consecutive years, she was presented with an award by Martin Luther King and appeared on the front cover of Time, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 and she reduced Barack Obama to tears with her impressively powerful voice at the Kennedy Centre Honours Ceremony. Of course, I mustn’t forget her memorable cameo as Mrs. Murphy in The Blues Brothers. Basically, there’s no denying she’s an icon.

But Franklin will release one more album: a collaboration with Stevie Wonder. Although I have no doubt this will be amazing, it still seems unclear as to whether they will be singing together, or whether he’ll be producer only. And it’s still not too late to see her perform live. Franklin told a news channel in America that she would perform once a month, for six months, in support of it.

In fact, Franklin seems to be using the word ‘retirement’ rather loosely. She said “I’m not going to go anywhere and just sit down and do nothing. That wouldn’t be good either”. R.E.S.P.E.C.T

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