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Sunday, August 19, 2018

Aretha Franklin: An Appreciation

Aretha Franklin: 1942 - 2018

Aretha Franklin -- "Queen of Soul" -- passed away this week.

Here's an appreciation by Jim McKelvey.

Aretha Franklin: An Appreciation

Have been thinking all week about that fifteen minute interview I was given with the Queen Of Soul, Aretha Franklin, that lasted three and a half hours. Interviewing everyone involved in her music career from the gospel days to Columbia Records to Atlantic Records on to Arista was just a thrill
over an entire year before I was given the chance to talk to Aretha.

As many people who know me realize I'm sort of a junkyard dog when I get a good idea and follow it to the end. Must have been turned down twenty times, over the course of the year to interview Aretha, and it got to the point where I had interviewed her entire immediate family at length.

As I was driving down I-96 on the way to her secret apartment, near Cobo Hall, I decided I needed a gift and pulled off the expressway taking the next exit. There was a very nice wine shop right off the exit and I went in to find the manager of the store stocking the shelves just after lunch. Told him I had an interview in thirty minutes with Aretha and needed a sort of gift to break the tension of an interview.

Really not sure if this was a synchronicity or if a guardian angel stepped right into my life to help but it was magical.

"Wow, did you come to the right place! You aren't going to believe this but if you look to your right on the wall there that is a picture of Aretha standing right at the counter where you are last week. I know exactly what she wants and I'll put it in the same fancy bag I gave her with the Godiva
chocolates she really likes," the manager told me. "You are going to be in like Flint with her today my friend."

So when Aretha met me at the door of her apartment we stood there for a few minutes and I told her the story before even entering. Then she lifted her arm to show me that the hair on her arm was standing on end and she told me she had goosebumps. She hated interviews, as everyone knew, but she said something to the effect that she felt like that was a sign this was going to be alright.

Traci Jordan was her publicist from Clive Davis' Arista Records and she sat in the corner about twenty feet away from where we conducted the interview on my dear friend David Brogran's Walkman Pro tape recorder (with some great stereo mics). So every fifteen minutes for over three hours Ms. Jordan would say "wrap it up, it has been fifteen minutes," and each time Aretha would wave her off.

After I filled two ninety minute Maxell XLII tapes Aretha turned the tables on me and started asking me questions about what I thought of her singing a duet with Dolly Parton and how she had passed her fear of flying class at Metro Detroit's airport but just didn't want to tour that way anymore. The
final test for Aretha was to go down the runway and reach one hundred and twenty-five miles an hour where the plane becomes airborne. She loved performing but like most musicians it was the touring that took it right out of you.

One suggestion I had was to buy a club in downtown Detroit and just play there. If you can't go to the people have the people come to you I told Aretha. Have heard she had done something like that recently but not sure how far she got.

We really bonded that day back in 1987 and I'm getting misty eyed just thinking about it. It honestly feels like a family member died today for me, RIP dear Aretha and boy does the choir in heaven have a soloist now. What a family reunion she is having right now. Honestly, I feel like she has just shed her mortal body to let her eternal everlasting body out and what a powerful soul returns to source this day.

Will never forget the personnel invitation I got from her to attend her three day recording session at her father's church that she produced herself and that duet she did that evening with Mavis Staples, wow! She made sure I had a reserved spot right up front not ten feet away from where she sang all three nights.

That invitation from Aretha and later a telegram out of the blue from B.B. King to attend an all day Jackson Prison "two show concert" I sure wish I would have saved. Clearly, not a very good archivist but do have a pristine recording with Aretha I just transferred to digital.

Thanks Jim for the fine appreciation of Aretha.

What a remarkable story and we hope your interview finds the wider audience and r-e-s-p-e-c-t it deserves.


At 8/19/2018 07:53:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

Great story and a great loss. She’s now with the angels and is released from the physical and has returned home at last. Thank you sweet angel for sharing your beautiful gift with the world. We will miss you for now but we shall all be together again someday.

At 8/20/2018 10:27:00 AM, Blogger Paul Dionne said...

Jim, that is such an excellent experience - paul dionne


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