Just the mere mention of her name demands your attention and everyone knows EXACTLY who you are talking about, regardless of age.
Synonymous with artistic excellence of the highest order. THE bar in which anyone who sings or performs tries to reach, or even catch a glimpse of.
She was the church, she was the street, she was sophisticated, she was regal, she was sassy. She was the lady from down the block. Even the road – which ravaged and took the best of them – had to bow down and give her some R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
She was a master musician. Yes, she could sing better than anyone on this planet (or any other) but when you put her at the piano…any doubts that you had about the existence of God were quickly erased.
Yes, she was, is, and will forever be The Queen Of Soul because she also put her entire soul into every word, every couplet, every note that she played. But just to give her that title still doesn’t match the magnitude that she has put out on the cultural landscape.
She could sing ANYTHING.
Gospel? Just listen to the Amazing Grace album, where Aretha, at the peak of her creative and artistic powers, gives us a glimpse of what heaven will look – and sound – like.
Rock n Roll? Listen to ‘Chain Of Fools’ where she towers above the wire pulling cat and mouse game being played between guitarists Jimmy Johnson and Joe South. Listen to Live At The Fillmore where she turns out the Haight-Asbury crowd. Listen to her Aretha-fy “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” into a re-telling of Lazarus coming back from the dead.
Blues, jazz, pop, and standards? Re-visit the often overlooked Columbia Records years in which the label tries to make her the label’s answer to Nat ‘King’ Cole. Yes, it was a creatively stifling, but it did showcase her depth and scope of her talents regardless of the material, and the recordings are nothing short of sublime.
Interpreter of other people’s material? None better. “Respect” is the greatest cover version of all time. Period. So much so, that people think Otis Redding was trying to hijack it from her! Carole King wrote “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” but after Aretha put her mark on it, you don’t think of any other version. “You’re All I Need To Get By” showed how she could out-Brill the Brill Building canon and out-Mo a Motown tune at the same time. “Rock Steady” showed Aretha can funk it out with the best of them. It also has one of the greatest breakdowns in the history of breakdowns.
Opera? At the 1998 Grammy Awards, she filled in at the last minute for Pavarotti – yes, Luciano Pavarotti – and delivered a version of Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma” that rearranged everyone’s molecular structure.
Aretha is The Queen.
In an industry that is driven by youth, what’s ‘new’ and what’s ‘fresh’, Aretha defied those barriers and rose above those biases. When dance music and the next wave of artists that clearly wore her influence on their sleeve tried to put her out to pasture, Aretha was having none of that. Her appearance in the 1980 classic The Blues Brothers performing the classic “Think” nearly stole the movie. Then there was remarkable run of hits during the Arista years: “Jump To It” (produced by Franklin devotee Luther Vandross), “Freeway Of Love”, “I Knew Your Waiting For Me” with George Michael, and “Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves”, which became a perfect musical bookend to “Respect”. Her earth shattering appearance at the 1998 Divas concert – in which Celine Dion and Mariah Carey tried to vocally hang with Aretha – showed us that she wasn’t quite ready to pass the torch just yet.
Aretha sang for Presidents and heads of state, but never left Detroit.
During her time here on Earth, Aretha gave a glimpse of what Heaven sounds like and now she has returned to her throne.
All Hail The Queen.