The singing world has felt Aretha Franklin’s death deeply. Many artists have expressed their sorrow and respect for the passing of the Queen of Soul. You may have seen Stevie Wonder’s tearful tribute trending on Facebook, he managed to visit her two days before her death. I couldn’t agree more with his statement that, “Every singer was influenced in some way by the way she sang, and they will forever be influenced by her because of her voice, her emotion; her sincerity is unforgettable.”
For many female singers in the Gospel, R&B, Soul and Blues genres, Franklin was a vocal inspiration and model. Her emotive high belt, impeccable phrasing, in the pocket rhythm and tasteful riffs motivated many singers to imitate her. So many singers have been directly or indirectly influenced by Franklin’s soul-stirring vocals, including Chaka Khan, Whitney Houston, Mary J Blige, Beyoncé, Ariana Grande and Jennifer Hudson. In fact, Hudson was hand picked by Franklin for the lead role for the Aretha Franklin biopic currently in-development.
Franklin once said “Music does a lot of things for a lot of people. It’s transporting, for sure. It can take you right back, it’s uplifting, it’s encouraging, it’s strengthening.” She certainly had the ability to transport people. I am sure she sang to transport herself through some of the struggles she endured in her early years. Including being on food stamps, losing her mother at the age of 10, being a mother of 2 by the age of 14 and enduring an abusive relationship with her first husband.
My first encounter with Franklin’s voice was in the 70s. A friend of my parents raved about her and soul music, saying, “It’s the only music you need to listen to”. At the time I remember thinking of her music as ‘old fashioned’. I was following singer-songwriter artists like James Taylor, Janis Ian and Carole King, as well as rock artists like the Eagles, 10CC, ELO and David Bowie. Of course, there will be many singers today who will regard that music as, ‘old fashioned’!
I recall my ears tuning in to her plaintive but powerful voice on Until You Come Back To Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do). Though it wasn’t till 1980 and The Blues Brothers film, starring Dan Ackeroyd and James Belushi, that I really got switched on. Franklin had a cameo role as a waitress and wife to one of the Blue Brothers band members. I recall sitting watching her sashaying around her on-screen hubby, singing the song Think. She was dressed in a food-stained waitress dress, floppy burgundy sleeveless cardie and pink slippers, belting out the song’s high notes with ease and attitude, delivering the lyrics as if she was just talking. I sat there mesmerised and I finally ‘got it’.
From that moment this Eurasian Aussie middle-class soprano wanted THAT voice. Bless. I headed off with determination. I hunted down singing teachers, vocal techniques and style coaches in Australia, the US and UK in the hope they could share the secret of how I could achieve a soulful honkin’ voice like Aretha’s.
Franklin’s version of (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman became my measuring stick. I wanted to sing those E5s with the same ease and belted edge that she had. I worked very hard, and eventually, after several years my voice did develop a E5+ belt. I remember the inner joy of finally finding this vocal quality easy, in tune and consistent. I recorded myself singing Natural Woman. I eagerly hit the play button, and then the truth hit me square in the face. Oh, boy, a harsh moment folks. I realised was NEVER going to sound like Aretha, ever.
In the end, I was ok with that, whilst I will never have THAT voice, I learnt a lot about the voice, vocal style, development, being a career singer, vocal artistry and technique, all of which I have been able to pass on to singers coming through my studio.
So today as I listen to Aretha Franklin on Spotify and write my story, I feel so grateful for her amazing voice, delivery, career and musicality. I am in awe of her achievements as a female artist, black woman and activist. Most of all I am thankful for the inspiration she gave me to go in search of “Aretha’s belt.” I will be one of many thousands of singers who will mourn her passing. She once said, “It really is an honor if I can be inspirational to a younger singer or person. It means I’ve done my job.” I am touched that Franklin feels honoured to have inspired me. She will never know the impact she had on me and my career, in fact, this magazine wouldn’t exist if it hadn’t been for the journey I took in search of her voice.
Aretha Franklin’s funeral will be held on the 31st August in her hometown of Detroit, Michigan.
I came across some great Aretha Franklin quotes, videos and interviews. I hope they will inspire and inform you as you continue down your singing road.
“I have to sit with the song for a while before I record it,” she said. “And, that’s pretty much it. That, and respecting the writer’s melody. Once you establish that respect, you can pretty much sing whatever you want and express yourself.” and “We’ve come a long way, but there is still a lot of discrimination,” she said. “There’s still a ways to go.” Rolling Stone reporter Patrick Doyle
“We all require and want respect, man or woman, black or white. It’s our basic human right.”
“We didn’t have music videos. You weren’t an overnight sensation. You had to work at it and learn your craft: how to take care of your voice, how to pace your concerts, all that trial and error.”
“Be your own artist, and always be confident in what you’re doing. If you’re not going to be confident, you might as well not be doing it.”
“Being the Queen is not all about singing, and being a diva is not all about singing. It has much to do with your service to people. And your social contributions to your community and your civic contributions as well.”
Here is Aretha Franklin putting her indelible stamp on musical theatre song, I Dreamed A Dream
One of my favourite songs by Aretha. I love the arrangement she created around this iconic song. Paul Simon said it’s his favourite version next to Art’s:
Kennedy Center Honors 2015 performance of (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman. With an ecstatic Carole King and teary Barack Obama in the audience. The interview she did afterward, talking about the performance. Click HERE to read.
Interview with The Wall Street Journal where she talks about covering songs by younger divas such as Adele and Mariah Carey
Feature photo Editorial credit: Shutterstock.com