aNewDomain — When a video many media outlets dubbed “Tiny Dancer Demands R-E-S-P-E-C-T” recently went viral on YouTube, it proved what those of us who worship at the altar of Aretha Franklin already knew: Aretha is a state of mind. One apparently even a talented tyke can touch …
Surpassing mere musical talent into the realm of myth and legend, Aretha Franklin has been Queen of Soul for as long as American music has had a soul. Nobody has been bigger, better or lasted longer, her virtuosity outshining anyone brave enough to follow her on a stage.
The daughter of an accomplished musician mother and honey-voiced father, Aretha Franklin grew up singing Gospel and playing the piano. Her father was a traveling preacher, and Aretha would perform with him on stage. When the Rev. C.L. Franklin impregnated a 12-year-old girl, Aretha’s mother left the family and moved away when Aretha was 6. The mother died when Aretha was 10. Aretha kept singing and got her first record deal at 14.
By age 15 she had two children. By 18 she was a bonafide superstar.
Now she’s 73 and has reportedly battled cancer, although she won’t admit it. Her family says she’s difficult that way, preferring to live in a reality of her own invention.
Aretha also reportedly has a temper and a love for fried food and unhealthy snacks like bacon sandwiches. She gets paranoid, canceling concerts over the years and derailing her career by refusing to travel to many places and nowhere by airplane. Loved ones told a biographer with whom she would not cooperate that she has been downright mean to other singers, her own family, and anyone else she felt aggravated with.
Let’s just call it all being a diva. Aretha is what she is.
She’s been named the greatest singer of all time on too many lists to count. Her voice is the biggest thing in every room. “Everyone wants to party with Aretha,” as Jack Black observed in “School of Rock,” because her voice is magic. Even crooning over the loudspeaker in a crowded auditorium full of snaphappy parents, it can reach into a little girl and turn her into someone who has 13 million views and growing.
Here’s a roundup of some of Aretha’s most interesting performances on YouTube, featuring Herself and not just her back-up dancer.
“Think,” 1980, The Blues Brothers Soundtrack
Aretha had an instant hit with this song in 1968 but continued to re-record it, including this longer 1980 version for “The Blues Brothers” movie. Her lip synch performance, with sisters Erma and Carolyn singing backup, proved even in a stained apron Aretha steals the show.
“It Hurts Like Hell,” 1997, “The Rolonda Show” and 1995, “Waiting To Exhale” Soundtrack
Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds wrote this one for Aretha, and there may not be a more dazzling display of Aretha’s voice. Listen to the recorded version for the ultimate power of it. She builds and builds this song and then tears you apart with it.
“Don’t Play That Song,” 1970, “The Cliff Richard Show”
Why do wacky European talk shows always have the best musical performances? Aretha’s afro, big ethnic earrings and poncho are already packing what would become her signature fashion punch.
“It Ain’t Necessarily So,” 1961
Many artists have recorded this Gershwin tune from the play “Porgy and Bess,” but Aretha’s version, recorded when she was 18, is unapproachable. It’s from her first album, which made her an instant star.
Piano demonstration, 1968
In 1 minute and 32 seconds Aretha explains soul music and plays the piano. Aretha’s fingers are as awesome as her voice.
“Ooh Baby Baby” snippet, 1963, “Soul Train Live”
Aretha and Smokey Robinson grew up together, and they make magic in this performance interviewed by Soul Train’s Don Cornelius.
“That’s Life,” 1967
Young Aretha comes alive onstage with Smokey Robinson and Frankie Valli on a TV special.
“(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”
Aretha’s shiny dress looks on fleek for today as she sings her 1967 hit in this undated video.
“I Say A Little Prayer,” VH1
Aretha rocks a groovy crocheted hat and a statement necklace so large and sparkly it’s less a statement and more like … an Aretha song. The video doesn’t say when it’s recorded but it looks to be for a special celebrating songs written by composer Burt Bacharach, who actually wrote the song for Dionne Warwick. Aretha and her singers recorded it for fun during practice one day, and when the version was published it, too, gained popularity.
“Ain’t No Way,” 2001, “Divas Live”
It cuts off mid-song and looks like it was recorded off a TV playing a bad VHS tape, but Aretha’s voice is still in command as she sings one of her most gut-wrenching numbers wearing a white satin jumpsuit, and carrying a feather boa on one arm. Here’s the recorded version of the song, which was written by Aretha’s little sister, Carolyn.
“Respect,” 2001, “Divas Live”
From the same performance, this is one where Aretha seems to be enjoying her famous song.
Performance at the White House, April 2015
Aretha opens this quite recent performance at the White House with a spine-tingling a cappella version of the old Spiritual: I love the Lord/ He heard my cries/ And pitied every groan. Her unaccompanied voice pulls all the emotion from the words in a virtuoso vocal display, and then it’s off to the races. Aretha out-sings a backup Gospel choir, has the First Lady’s mother dancing out of her seat, and manages to even upstage a nearby portrait of George Washington. That enormous gray fur coat? Let’s pretend it’s fake and keep listening.
“My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” 2009, President Barack Obama’s Inauguration
The performance that launched the Aretha’s Hat Twitter account.
“I Dreamed A Dream,” 1993, President Bill Clinton Inaugural Ball
Perhaps Aretha’s biggest hair and dress and fur and earrings yet, in an equally oversized performance of an odd choice for a president’s big night, a song by a toothless prostitute about the futility of hope? Ah, the Clinton years.
“Nessun Dorma,” 1998, Grammy Awards
The world’s greatest tenor has a sore throat and can’t go on, and someone has to replace him because there’s an orchestra and choir all set up on a live broadcast. And it’s Italian opera? No problemo, where’s the microphone? When Luciano Pavarotti took ill, Sting knew the one call he had to make.
For aNewDomain, I’m Nancy Imperiale, and I want to party with Aretha, too.
Featured image credit:
Inline photo: A Young Aretha Franklin, 1961, Metronome via Getty Images via New York Times, All Rights Reserved