Amazing Grace: The film that captures Aretha Franklin at her best

Aretha Franklin Amazing Grace

A glorious documentary capturing Aretha Franklin at the peak of her vocal powers has just hit UK cinemas and is a must-see for fans of the Queen of Soul.

In January 1972 Aretha Franklin spent two nights singing from the pulpit and from behind a piano in the Bethel Baptist Church in LA.

These sessions were recorded for Franklin’s best-selling live gospel album Amazing Grace, considered by some to be the greatest singer of all time’s greatest album. Luckily for us, these sessions were also filmed by award winning director Sydney Pollack.

This footage remained on the shelf for decades but now thanks to the wonders of digital technology and the work of the late Franklin’s estate, the documentary is on wide release.

There are many reasons why the film almost never saw the light of day – technical errors, ill health and legal and money rows – but let’s not dwell on them. Instead let’s celebrate the fact that we can now enjoy a tantalising glimpse of just what happened on those two very special nights back in 1972.

Thanks to the documentary (and Alan Elliot, the man who rescued it) we get a front row seat in the steamy Bethel Baptist Church (Franklin insisted the temperature be kept high when she sang). Also there are the church’s congregation, the Southern California Community Choir resplendent in silver waistcoats, and an assortment of famous faces including Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts, all eager to see and hear the Queen of Soul do her stuff.

Pastor James Cleveland acts as MC while Reverend CL Franklin, the songstress’s father, is also close at hand to deliver a sermon.

And in amongst this melee is the star herself, who cuts a charismatic figure. When she’s not singing, she’s calm, focused and almost completely silent. In contrast, when she is singing Franklin is a powerhouse delivering a performance of such emotional intensity some in the audience pass out.

Film critics have described the documentary as “electrifying”, “euphoric”, “transcendent” and “heart-wrenching”. We think it’s also a fascinating lesson in music and social history. You be the judge.

Read more about Aretha Franklin HERE.

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