Aretha Franklin’s One Lord and One Faith

NEW YORK, NY – NOVEMBER 07: Aretha Franklin performs onstage at the Elton John AIDS Foundation Commemorates Its 25th Year And Honors Founder Sir Elton John During New York Fall Gala at Cathedral of St. John the Divine on November 7, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)

Today’s homecoming of Aretha Franklin prompted me to pull out her legendary double-CD live set, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism from 1987. While the live Amazing Grace set (1972) is the justly more famous, more satisfying collection, One Lord has moments of transcendent beauty and power, including her 10-minute tour de force with Mavis Staples on “O Happy Day.”

One Lord also features “I’ve Been in the Storm Too Long,” written by her long-time pianist and collaborator, the Rev. James Cleveland, and sung as a duet with the last of gospel’s old school shouters, Joe Ligon of the Mighty Clouds of Joy.

With the passing of Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett, Ligon was probably the last soul singer who could toe-to-toe with Franklin on any stage. And yet, “I’ve Been in the Storm Too Long” begins as a ballad, each artist taking a verse, singing softly and gently, more like a prayer than a shout:

I’ve been in the storm too long
I’ve been in the storm too long
Lord, please let me
Have a little more time to pray

I’ve been in the storm too long
I’ve been in the storm too long
Lord, please give me
I need a little more time to pray

Eventually, in the true gospel (and black preaching) style, the old dictum, “start low, go slow; rise higher, catch fire” kicks in and the two old friends let ’er rip for eight glorious minutes.

As I listen to the words again, I hear something of the essence that made Aretha Franklin not just the “Queen of Soul” but one of those few artists who, through the sheer force of her talent, Changed Things.

Although not as publicly active in the civil rights movement as Mahalia Jackson or Staples, Franklin was revered in the black community, particularly from the mid-’60s through the early ’70s. Along with Redding, Pickett, Nina Simone, and others, she was at the forefront of the “soul music” era, that particularly rich, inventive period when gospel music and R&B fused to create music powerful enough to be both danceable and culturally significant.

With Atlantic Records and paired with a sympathetic group of (mostly) white Southern musicians, Franklin released one of the most musically and socially influential series of albums of all time: I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You (1967), Lady Soul (1968), Aretha Now (1968), and Young, Gifted and Black (1972). In them, the songs—“Respect,” “Chain of Fools,” “(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman,” “Think,” and others—focused a movement, empowered young black Americans, and brought millions of white kids like me out onto the dance floor.

She arranged and played piano on her best songs, utilizing the musical lessons learned by listening to her father, the Rev. C. L. Franklin, preach, sitting beside gospel great Clara Ward and sharing songs with piano prodigy Cleveland. Each song she recorded brought a deep gospel sensibility. And unlike other gospel artists who were “punished” by gospel audiences for their secular success, Franklin moved easily between the two worlds. “If you want to know the truth,” her father once said, “Aretha has never left the church. If you have the ability to feel, and you have the ability to hear, you know that Aretha is still a gospel singer.”

Franklin eventually left Atlantic Records for Arista, where she had a number of pop hits over the next 20 years, but nothing to compare with “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Loved You.” She was music royalty by then, of course, and remained a supreme superstar in the industry. At Martin Luther King’s funeral, Jackson and Franklin both sang. When Jackson passed a few years later, it was Franklin who was asked to sing “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.”

In recent years, her health failing, Franklin made fewer and fewer public appearances, gave virtually no interviews, and recorded less and less. At one of her last public performances, a noticeably thin Franklin asked her hometown Detroit audience to pray for her.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today, Robert F. Darden