The Queen of Soul would have celebrated her 77th birthday today, March 25th 2019! Her career was expansive and her voice was recorded over multiple decades covering both the gospel and soul genres but also pop, R&B and hip hop! With 112 hit songs in her repertoire Aretha Franklin is the most charted female artist in history and unique in her style, power, talent and ability to connect with us through her own beautiful and human interpretation of the narrative. She won 18 Grammy Awards, sold over 75 million records worldwide and amongst a variety of other accolades, was honoured as Rolling Stone’s Magazine No.1 Top Vocalist in their list of ‘100 Greatest Singers of all Time’!
Aretha’s voice offers us an opportunity to study, analyse, learn and improve! I’ve often listened on repeat to song after song, eager to appreciate her natural talent. How did she gently stretch out her vocal timing to make each phrase seem so effortless and conversational? Her band’s rhythm-section would keep everyone funky and tight throughout allowing her to relax so much she’d almost seem slightly ahead or maybe slightly behind the pulse but never so much that she would be physically out of time or not part of the solid groove! Her phrasing was relaxed, human and real and she was effortless with her throw-away improvised words or phrases. She knew exactly what language, what pitch, and which rhythmic motif to add in to take the song and her performance from magical to unbelievable. Her vocal range was as we would expect, vast! From the deep rich tones in her chest voice up to the phenomenal power in her upper range, she was able to deliver both emotional songs like Carole King’s ‘Natural Woman’ to more up-beat/energising songs like ‘Respect’ ‘Think’ and ‘Don’t Play That Song (You Lied)’ amongst others.
‘I Say a Little Prayer’ was a favourite in Rock Choir in 2009, so much so that we recorded it with Decca/Universal and released it on Rock Choir Vol.1 in 2010. Although I’d created a full-choir vocal version of it for the Rockies, Rock Choir Leader, Katy Seath, improvised a new solo line for us using her own stunning gospel phrasing experience and this gave the final album version a beautiful sparkle we didn’t even realise had been missing! (Thank you again Katy – you are true talent! xx)
If you get a chance, find the Aretha Franklin back-catalogue and allow yourself to be comforted and wrapped-up her in her voice for an hour or so. She truly is a unique tonic and worth creating time for! We miss you Aretha!
Happy Birthday! Cx