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What Soul Legend Aretha Franklin Means to Me

Posted by on May 17, 2013

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When I was growing up, things were pretty chaotic at my house.

The times when I couldn’t find something outside to do I’d hide in my room or the basement, reading books and listening to music.

I was only 10-years-old when I found my first Aretha Franklin record in the garage. The song was “Natural Woman.”

Michele as kid

It was was one of hundreds of dusty 45s that my dad had left behind after the divorce. Somehow mom had missed them in the big clean out. The small, black discs were all I really had of my dad. Even on the occasional visits it was hard to connect.

I pictured him a handsome young man, listening to these records, singing along. The funny thing was they were almost all really good.

Each song was a new piece of my father. Something we shared.

Dusting the vinyl off with my t-shirt, I sat down on the rug next to my record player.

I put it carefully on the turntable and shrugged on the huge sweater that I kept in “my studio.” It was freezing in the basement.

Pressing the record button of the ancient garage sale reel-to-reel recorder, I leaned toward the microphone (a small, patterned square on the machine), straightened the words so I could see them and read.

natural 45

“Here’s Aretha Franklin with “A Natural Woman.”

There was always a long pause after the song-reading part where I needed to put the arm on the right part of the record.

The drop of the needle, then the sound of the vinyl itself (warm, crackly)…

The acoustic piano kicked in with a single note, then four regal chords. Aretha’s quietly powerful voice made the speakers come alive.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEWuAcMWDLY]

Aretha Franklin is my favorite singer of all time.

Ray Charles said: “There are singers, then there is Aretha. She towers above the rest. Others are good, but Aretha is great. She’s my only sure-enough sister.”

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xroRNBvvF9M]

The song “Baby I Love You” was released on her first album Aretha Arrives. 

Her first single to hit both the R&B and the pop charts in 1967 would pave the way for other soul musicians.

Aretha would become what the industry called a “crossover artist,” meaning she appealed to audiences of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds.

The first song I  remember seeing Aretha Franklin perform was in the movie Blues Brothers.

I was 15 years old and had never, ever seen a woman that sassy laying down the line. Many of the older females in my life seemed to have a profound lack of boundaries. Now here was a person I could look up to.

Her voice was incredible: strong, magnetic. The song was equal parts gospel, jazz and soul.

Dressed like a waitress, she sang like a queen.

 [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qE41YPdPuis]

Without Aretha I would probably never have become a singer, and maybe not even a radio DJ. Her bravery inspired me. She was the master of her own future.

Many years later my love for Aretha would extend into DJ remixes of her songs.

Louis Armstrong said. “Everyone should have a theme song.”

The Danny Krivit remix of  Aretha Franklin’s “Rock Steady” became the anthem for my Friday night radio show.

The vibe is cutting edge and current and at the same time organically rhythmic and soulful.

Aretha’s voice opens every show. Reminding me that life will always give you something beautiful, if you take a moment to listen.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KmqAMuP-4Sk]

Tune in to DJ Michele Myers Friday nights at 9pm on KEXP 90.3FM Seattle, kexp.org. Music historian and producer, Michele’s made over 200 radio stories for KEXP Documentaries. She’s also written scripts, lesson plans and features for The SmithsonianExperience Music Project, The University of Washington & NPR.

  

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