‘She Never Left’: Aretha Franklin Took the Church Wherever She Went

by Jarvis DeBerry

At the end of “Amazing Grace,” Aretha Franklin’s 1972 live album, her father the Rev. C.L. Franklin is brought to the front of the Los Angeles church to make remarks.  The Rev. Franklin, perhaps the most famous black preacher in America, tells the audience that a woman he’d recently encountered at the cleaners told him that Aretha had done OK on a recent television show. “But I’ll be glad,” the woman said, “when she comes back to the church.”

The Rev. Franklin isn’t amused.  “I said, ‘Listen, baby, let me tell you something. If you want to know the truth, she has never left the church. All you have to do is have … the ability to hear and the ability to feel,” he says, “and you will know that Aretha is still a gospel singer! And the way she sings in this church she sings anywhere she sings.”

In the 46 years that followed, those words never stopped being true.  No matter the context, no matter the song, Aretha Franklin was a gospel singer.  She was a gospel singer in 1998 when she filled in for a sick Luciano Pavarotti at The Grammys and sang the aria “Nessun Dorma.”  She was a gospel singer in 2009 when she sang “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” at President Barack Obama’s inauguration.

Franklin, the undisputed Queen of Soul, died Thursday, Aug. 18, at her home in Detroit, Mich. She was 76 years old.  On her very first recording in 1956, the precocious 14-year-old sang, “I have heard of a place where we’ll never grow old.” Thursday, she was released to discover it.

Every once in a while, the world witnesses the ascent of an artist who changes everything, an artist who embodies the change between the way things were and the way things are.  Aretha Franklin was such an artist.  Her way of singing became the way women sang.

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SOURCE: Jarvis DeBerry
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