DAVID NATHAN'S DIARY- August 14, 2021: ARETHA: FOREVER LIGHTING UP MY LIFE....

Aretha Franklin with husband Glynn Turman, son Kecalf Cunningham, stepson and stepdaughter Stephanie Turman
Photo Credit
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

My direct and personal connection with Aretha Franklin, universally known as 'The Queen Of Soul' goes back to 1966 when - as a teenager in London - I wrote her fan letter in care of her father's church, with an envelope addressed to 'Miss A. Franklin c/o Reverend C.L. Franklin, New Bethel Baptist Church, Detroit, Michigan, USA.'  Back then, there was literally no way I could have found the street address!  No internet, no computers, no US phone directory in the UK, literally 'ain't no way'!  As a backup, I sent another letter to her c/o her manager (who I didn't know was her then-husband Ted White) at the address on CBS Records' publicity photos of Aretha, at that point ending her recording contract with Columbia Records. 

I don't know which letter Aretha got first: I only know that one Saturday morning in the spring of 1966, my dad Mark called 'David, letter from America!' from downstairs in the North West London fish-and-chip shop he managed above which our family (mother Frances, younger sister Sylvia, my father and Sadie, his 'assistant' and 'other woman')...

At the time the letter arrived, that Saturday morning, I was trying to wrap up my British teen vocal chords around the bluesy "Nobody Knows The Way I Feel This Morning,' an amazing track on Aretha's 1964 LP, "Unforgettable, A Tribute To Dinah Washington," then a rare import album that had been ordered especially for me by the local London record shop at which I worked earning pocket money...

Back then, I could never in my wildest dreams have imagined I would write my first-ever story for the British magazine "Blues & Soul" about Aretha in 1967, the same year I would get a 'thank you' package from Atlantic Records' executive Jerry Wexler (who signed Aretha to the label at the end of '66) with her then-about-to-be-released single, "Baby I Love You"; or that with sister Sylvia, I would go to Gatwick Airport in May1968 (with a bunch of flowers) to meet a 26-year old Aretha arriving - with husband/manager Ted, sister Carolyn and backup singers Charnessa Jones and Wyline Ivey -  for her first performances in Britain after already wowing audiences in Sweden (and before that, The Netherlands)...

Aretha began figuring prominently in my journey as a music journalist from 1970 when in August, she adorned the cover of "Blues & Soul" with an article I wrote based on a chat we had in her dressing room at the BBC when she was about to perform "Don't Play That Song" live before an enraptured British television audience on 'Top Of The Pops'.  She provided many 'firsts' on my life:  on my visit to New York in October 1974 on holiday, I saw her at Radio City Music Hall and as the resident correspondent for "Blues & Soul" in NYC from February 1975 on, there were many shows, backstage chats and an increasing number of in-person interviews...

August 1978, a call from Atlantic Records results in an amazing interview session with Aretha, then newly married to actor Glynn Turman at their home in Encino, California.  The resultant cover story spanned a few pages of "Blues & Soul" in September 1978 and during our wide-ranging conversation, I asked Aretha about word that she had recorded the song, "You Light Up My Life"  (a 1977 pop hit for Debby Boone, daughter of Pat Boone) which she had featured in concerts in the months prior, one of which I had seen in New York, eliciting standing ovations. 

Verbatim, Aretha's response was, "Yes, I did that with [conductor/arranger and musical director] H.B. Barnum - we produced it together.  His arrangement is beautiful and we recorded it out here in Los Angeles.  Atlantic [Records] has it now and I think it's going to be the next single.  Yes, I think it will do well because people seem to like the song anyway.  In fact, I really liked Debby Boone's version myself."

In fact, Aretha had cut the song with H.B. at the end of July and she's done two vocal takes. She was confident that it would indeed be a then-new single on Atlantic since, performing it on US national television on 'The Dick Clark Show' in November, the host introduced it as such.  For whatever reason, Atlantic didn't release it and for years, the loyal cadre of Aretha's fans who knew of the recording's existence wondered what had become of it...

In the amazing 'no-coincidence' connectivity of my life - in particular with matters concerning Aretha - in 2002, I was hired by Rhino Records to do tape research in the Burbank vaults of the vast Atlantic catalogue, at the time recently transported to California from New York.  There were many wonderful 'finds' including, to my amazement and joy, the tape box containing "You Light Up My Life"! 

After transfer to digital files, I listened to Aretha's two recorded performances in complete awe.  Clearly these were among Aretha's finest vocals of the time and I wondered how or when the world would get to hear 'The Queen' bringing her unique musical magic to the song and transforming it into a soulful opus...

On one occasion, there was a 'possibility' it might have been included on a gospel/soul album of recordings I was co-producing with award-winning music man Preston Glass for Time Life - and that didn't happen.... 

Fast forward to 2019 and I am elated to be working with the renowned Patrick Milligan, one of Rhino's distinguished reissue producers on a career retrospective.  We went through different possibilities and "You Light Up My Life" seemed like a 'natural' to be included on this first-ever 4CD box set. 

Thankfully, Patrick concurred and we agreed that the second vocal take was so stunning that it was a 'must' for inclusion.  With deep gratitude to Aretha's estate and all the incredible staff at Rhino, "You Light Up My Life" can now be heard as one of the musical 'crown jewels' on the "ARETHA" box set, released amazingly on July 30th, 2021, literally 43 years after Aretha's recording session in Los Angeles on July 31st, 1978.  Timing it seems is everything and what a joy to hear this 'hidden' gem which is a testament to the timelessness of Aretha's music that continues to touch, move and inspire people the world over...

 

 

 

Artist Name

Read More

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
2021 Introduction: With a resurgence of interest in her recordings as a result of the 2021 SoulMusic Records’ box set, “Old Friend – The Deluxe Collection (1976-1998),” the late and much-revered Phyllis Hyman was just starting her recording career when then-Manhattan neighbour David Nathan met up with her in 1977…
article column overlay
Soul Train via Getty Images
Barry White's first No. 1 hit didn't even feature his voice!
article column overlay
As Mayfield sang in his final album, "Never forget that the life we live is oh so beautiful."
article column overlay

Facebook Comments