Don't make the mistake of thinking that I don't like Aretha Franklin, and that I am hopping in here just to dishonour her. Nay! In addition to being a big fan of old Big Band and Swing mx when I was a boy, I also rejoiced whenever I heard true Franklin-type, choir, roots gospel music on the radio on Sunday mornings. And Aretha Franklin really had a corner on the gospel element of Rock and Roll. First female artist inducted into the R&R Hall of Fame.
Aretha Franklin had a gospel background, more than any other popular artist. She came from a strong musical environment which closely paralleled the rise of black influence after the Civil Rights advances. That influence lasted half a century. Like Marvin Gaye and other rock-soul movers-and-shakers, she spoke from a heart strongly educated by religion, (the child of a preacher-man), taking it one step further. She took her childhood excitement of hearing gospel crossing-over to pop/soul/rock, to being, herself, a prime force in developing that powerful, historic and vast crossover in the next decades. To audiences, she always tried to reconvey that original excitement.
To think that songs about love, relationships and sorrow could be elevated to the importance of divinity, in a way. That was a fundamental force behind R&R itself. It kinda went crazy-wild, don't ya know. The whole soul explosion, gone pop. She truly was one of the preeminent musical artists of our age - and of history, but hey...
What is with all these NPR reports closing off by playing a clip of Franklin singing, "I Say A Little Prayer"? Yes, Franklin did a great version of that song - but it was a cover - of an original which actually did much better than Franklin's version. It was first performed by the intoxicating Dionne Warwick! It was HER song, by miles! Why is NPR acting like Franklin owned the song? She didn't. She owned several other songs that were not orininally hers, like, "Respect," and, "Natural Woman," both of which were anthems to female independence in the hippie era, NOT so much statements of black rights.
Even though Aretha rightly supported the continuing civil rights movement, "Respect," was always known as a song about emergent womanhood - girl power! It was book-ended by, "Natural Woman", "Think," and other songs, some of which Franklin DID help write.
I once had a friend whom I liked, and who liked me, but we never became bf/gf. "I Say A Little Prayer," was her song, and our song. (Cuz of the whole Catholic thing). But the original, cute, somewhat loungy and mod WARWICK version! And that was the version that went down through history as being THE version. "Respect," and, "Natural Woman," went down in history as ARETHA songs! Which is fine. But not, "I Say A Little Prayer"! Even though Franklin made it a little more gospel, that never made it HER song.
So, what was NPR thinking? It felt insulting, like sacrilege, with them ending the reports as if summing up Aretha Franklin - with a song by a still living artist - right? Isn't she still living? Maybe not. I don't even remember if Carol King is dead. SEE - this is what Aretha Franklin did to my mind! How about saying a little prayer for Warwick, King and Redding?
Oh - and that female friend of mine? She married a similarly Irish guy, with a name similar to mine, and died a few years later. One of those handful of friends you lose when they are still young. So, this is one reason why this issue is personal to me - along with the fact that Warwick is one of my favourite singers, even though she is - or was - completely nuts.
In this area of the country, near Chicago, there is a lot of BLUES all around. Delta blues turned Chicago blues - (not as much of the mountain or Piedmont blues, which I prefer). This is the kind of blues - Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Buddy Guy, Robert Johnson - that strongly influenced Eric Clapton and other rockers, but other types of blues also influenced Rock.
Around here, this type of blues is TOO MUCH. The local NPR station arguably plays 12 hours of this stuff every week. (And it isn't even a music station). On Saturday nights, while the NPR station plays the blues, a local classic rock station ALSO stupidly runs its own blues show! This has been going on for years.
I can play the blues like a madman on my harmonica - but I always felt the blues was too simple, slow, depressing and self-serving. In other words: Boring. So, that's one thing about Aretha Franklin that has always been refreshing to me: She was a soul/rock star not based in the blues, but in gospel. Even though both original forms are associated with black spirituality or religion, (and some white), gospel is always more aspirational, hopeful and non-alcoholic, lol. Much of the rest of rock and soul was blues oriented, but there was still some that was more gospel, and Franklin was right there at the tip of the spear.
There is really no dividing line between what is blues or soul or gospel or R&B or R&R. They are all related, they are all various interpretations through various lenses. Each artist has their own way or mix. Black religious music also borrowed from white hymns, blues, Texas Swing, Cajun French, European instruments - and even the European religion itself. It's because this country started off largely as being built by a bunch of prudish anal Puritans that blacks, Jews and others could come in and liven things up a bit. But - it's all an amazing story, and study. All the influences.
But if I had to draw up a scheme for more modern black music, I would put soul in the middle, and blues on the "male" side of it, and gospel on the "female" side. This would be the base of the pyramid defined as R&B, which is more the apex. R&B then crosses over into Ska(reggae), R&R, funk, etc. But basic R&B seems to have roots in honky-tonk, blues, bebop and swing. Even though "soul" music is considered to be more modern, I think it is really the carnal version of the spiritual base of black music - the feeling - that goes back to and before early slave days, like on the islands off of SC, or in the Caribbean.
My favourite study is of disco, which emerged from a combination of hopped-up Philly soul plus funk, the latter which soon faded into a constant rhythm plus sappy orchestration.
Anyway, Franklin has been around through most of these trends, and even into "rap, when she sang, "Everybody DANCE now!" which was the greatest, yes? In fact, I think she represented the dynamic within a major vector in the history of music, and in civil rights, and in social and economic change, that she enhanced and which enhanced her. It is indisputable that she was (is) a central artist. And one reason why is precisely because she helped cross-over all these forms into white popular music.
Today, a lot of people complain that, "black music was stolen by white folks in black leather." But it was MUSIC. Everyone LIKED what was GOOD. And music was good because the times were improving robustly, for most people in general. Yes there was struggle, but there was more hope and success than there was bloodshed. It is not as if blacks didn't steal music from whites - or from blacks! It is nonsense to try to reduce aesthetic history to these kinds of identity politics, which lead to zero-sum gain and conflict. It is the antithesis of multiculturalism, which is what Aretha was about.
Few were as 'responsible' for for the white 'theft' of black music than was Aretha Franklin, an original soul.
But she was neither a god nor a thief. It's sad that Otis Redding died after Aretha made his song and even bigger hit, with his death followed by a carefree song about being depressed, "Sitting On The Dock Of The bay." So, even though Aretha covered that song, let's still honour Otis for the origination - and honour King, and Warwick, and Bacharach, and Sam Cook, and Ray Charles, and Aretha's dad, and all the others!
And there is almost no one whom Aretha did not influence. In fact, I was listening to NPR's, "World Cafe," interviewing Courtney Andrews, who said that her singing was mainly formed by her listening to Aretha Franklin records, and trying to reach the same notes. That same night: Came the news that Aretha Franklin was gravely ill. Meaning she was going to die real soon.
Funny thing. The big-time DJ on the local classics station started talking about all the upcoming concerts for Aretha Franklin - and he was saying this after she died. So I called in and said she won't be able to do those concerts cuz she died of Pancreatic cancer. I mean, I can see him missing the news of her death - but this was 2-3 days after the news that she was dying.
Speaking of Aretha's influence, (as hinted above): She put out an album in 1972 called, "Amazing Grace," in a church in Watts, (as in Watts Riots) . There she created a two-disc album of roots GOSPEL music. This clearly influenced the Rolling Stones, "Exile On Main Street," which went on to inspire Liz Phaire's, "Exile In Guyville," an album that went back to the whole female anthem concept, right? Franklin probably also influenced Elton John's album, "Honky Chateau," my favourite, which contained the wonderful gospelly song, "Amarina", which I think is spectacular - and which which begins the movies, "Dog Day Afternoon."
Aretha also influenced many others, like the Staple Singers, Sisters Sledge, Mahalia Jackson, Patty LaBelle, Amy Winehouse, Adele, Lake Street Dive, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Alabama Shakes - just about everyone, really. And she influenced with her voice, with her spirit, with her style - which was not solely gospel, but often went into blues, rock, dance, etc. Soul, basically. The Queen of Soul. But remember, she was not the GOD of Soul - so she doesn't deserve the credit for Dionne's song! She doesn't deserve credit for all Gospel. Or all black music. We are all one person, getting along.
She was just one person.
Criticism: If you listen to her, and her wonderful voice, it may seem like she is confined in her register - way up there, but still confined - and shouting. I think I have heard a few songs from her that were soft, sexy, lower register - like a more alluring Sheryl Crow - which - it is a shame this aspect was not pushed more, cuz she could even have outsold Crow on that. (Note: Crow was one-time wife of Clapton, who also stole Geo Harrison's wife). As it is, despite her wide variety, Franklin sometimes seems like a, "one-trick-pony," which may be a fault of gospel, although less so than of blues. Just an observation. I love how Franklin went back to her roots, at the height of her pop-ularity, and did a few true gospel discs. I think going back to the roots kind of makes the singing more robust, and helps iron out the flaw I just mentioned, perhaps paradoxically.
Now, as far as NPR. I don't know, maybe the rest of the dazed news, like CNN, msNBC, etc., similarly pushed, "I Say A Little Prayer", as being a song owned by Aretha - I do not know. But NPR did so, weirdly. And it reminded me of the way they keep twisting the news to favour Democrats, blacks, or women - and skew it against Republicans, or Trump, etc. They are doing this constantly. There is so much of it, my CFS mind and body cannot keep track of it, and write about it.
Anyway, here is a spoof article by the ONION, which, you know what? It COULD BE TRUE. Because FOX News skews things too - oppositely to NPR. So, the idea formed in my head to pretend that the Onion spoof was true, and compare it to the NPR bias on Aretha - that she owns, "I Say A Little Prayer." And I think it is interesting - symbolic of our times. Because one side keeps ballooning and bubbling up their truth, and the other side keeps ballooning and bubbling up their side. And both side declare themselves to be definitive of THE TRUTH - no fake news here, oh no. So, inevitably, both sides, with their biases, inevitably blames the other side for lying and attacking and so on. Inevitably, conflict follows. When you look at these people, as if they were ants, you see that their conflict is something bigger than each one of them - something they are all giving themselves over to, as if to some larger fate, god, or DEATH - (see upcoming post).
Well, let me just say, that if you criticise something like the origin of, "Say A Little Prayer," as tempted by NPR's bias, it does not make you a hater of Aretha Franklin, ergo a racist, right? But that's what the trolls latch onto - that you are a racist, or a Nazi, or a globalist, or a treehugger, or whatever. It's all because of these overreachings, (see, "History: DELETE" (The Great Overreach).
I, myself, just see yet another niggling issue popping out, trying to stir up popular resentments and hostilities again - another annoying presumptiveness that NPR has no idea it is doing, that liberals or FOX or conservatives DON'T HAVE A CLUE THEY ARE DOING EITHER. Cuz they are all reaching for what they feel is owed them, based on egos that grew out of the prolific BORROWING of/since the 1980's.
I think Aretha's version of the song is great. I think that THE ORIGINAL version of the song is greater - and history bears me out on this, so far. Sorry of that makes me a racist in somebody's presumptuous eyes. And, because I like the original version, which was also done by a BLACK WOMAN, then trolls on the RIGHT will feel the need to call me hateful and racist towards WHITES - even though the original version was written by a white person - Jewish, I think - WOOPS!
Why is this all going on, really? This is NOT how all our wonderful music grew up and proliferated. This is how the spirit in all our music is dying. For this, I say,
Say a little prayer!
Dionne Warwick - "I Say A Little Prayer" 1967 Original Million Seller
Aretha Franklin- "I Say A Little Prayer"
Fox News Apologizes For Mistaking Patti LaBelle For Aretha Franklin