‘Amazing Grace’: How Aretha Franklin Took Everybody to Church

Aretha Franklin’s live album “Amazing Grace” is a monumental release that captures how she transformed gospel music. (Credit: Daniel Lefevre/Getty Images)
Aretha Franklin’s live album “Amazing Grace” is a monumental release that captures how she transformed gospel music. (Credit: Daniel Lefevre/Getty Images)

by Wesley Morris

Albums don’t “matter,” anymore. But they used to, and when they did, Aretha Franklin, who died on Thursday, was responsible for one of the very best: “Amazing Grace,” a live album recorded over two days in January 1972, at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in South Los Angeles.

The excellence of “Amazing Grace” is no secret. It’s still one of the country’s best-selling gospel records, as well as Franklin’s most popular album. Bloomsbury’s music-criticism book series, 33 1/3, put out an exhaustive forensic appreciation by Aaron Cohen in 2011. And in 2016, in a reverent critical profile of Franklin for The New Yorker, David Remnick called it “perhaps her most shattering and indispensable recording.”

Yet it’s frequently dispensed with. Polls of the great albums rarely include it. (An NPR poll, from last year, of the 150 best albums by women and nonbinary artists, had it at No. 23.) Generally, if a list bothers with Franklin at all, the obvious choice is “Lady Soul” from 1968, her 14th album. It’s the one with “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” “Chain of Fools,” and “Ain’t No Way.” Or, her 11th, from the year before: “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” the one with “Respect,” “Drown in My Own Tears,” and “Dr. Feelgood (Love Is a Serious Business).” No complaints here.

“I Never Loved a Man” is a narcotic album — its 11 perfectly done songs should come in a pill bottle. But “Amazing Grace” is an artist reaching another level. It’s as long as a movie and as deep as the valley of the shadow of death. It should be included alongside the usual suspects — your “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “Rubber Soul” and “Highway 61 Revisited” and “Pet Sounds” — each regarded as monumental.

This was a monument, too.

In the Baptist tradition, when the spirit stirs you, you move. You clap. You get on your feet and slap at the air. You whoop. You carry on. You disturb the floor with a flurry of taps, like your feet are burning. So it goes in the Aretha tradition, too.

Click here to continue reading…

SOURCE: The New York Times