August 16, 2022 message from founder  and music historian, David Nathan

“Commemorating the fourth anniversary of her transition on August 16th, with heart-to-heart respect and in deep appreciation for how her soul deep,  all-encompassing and timeless musical legacy continues to bring comfort, inspiration, joy and connection to millions the world over, we present a series of personal reflections that offer a variety of different perspectives on how, in a very singular fashion, Aretha Franklin’s impact and influence on 20th and 21st century life is indeed truly transcendent.”

Why Aretha?

by Sid “Uncle Jamz” Johnson

It was in May of 1964 on a trip to Chicago, Illinois with my Mom and my stepfather that we went to The Regal Theater to see a music concert.

I was not even a teenager quite yet and my musical tastes were kind of all over the place. In my home I heard jazz, blues and gospel recordings. Additionally I was a fan of The Beatles, as they had appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in February of that year, and I also was fond of the Motown Sound of The Temptations, Mary Wells, Jr. Walker and The All Stars and The Contours, all of whom were on this show at The Regal Theater that night.

What has forever stuck out in my mind about this night was this lady that came out and sang and played the piano doing songs like “Won’t Be Long”, “Are You Sure”, “Skylark” and “Today, I Sing The Blues”. I quite honestly had never heard anything like it, and she looked beautiful in her evening gown and then without warning, these two guys came out and one said a little speech and then crowned her, ‘The new Queen of The Blues”, noting the passing of Dinah Washington.

I kept asking my Mom who this lady was, and she told me it was Reverend C.L. Franklin’s daughter. I was like thinking to myself, ‘who is Rev. C.L. Franklin?’.

The impression on that night has left an indelible imprint in my very existence. I recall when I used to be the host of junior high school sock hops always having a lot of Aretha Franklin on the record player. One favorite that the young teen girls would lip-synch to was “Prove It”, which was the B-side of “Chain Of Fools”.

I would later go to one of my Mom’s best friends house and look through her record collection as she had all of the Columbia Records and I just wanted to hear everything this woman had ever recorded. I even special ordered her 1956 gospel 45rpm of “Precious Lord Take My Hand (Part 1 and Part 2)”.

My Mom shared stories of having gone to see Aretha at a popular Indianapolis nightclub called The Pink Poodle in 1961 and 1962 (Editor’s note: the poster of Aretha is for her October 5-13, 1962 run at the club; her first performance there was on November 9, 1961)

My dream was to meet her one day. I had met some of her band members over the years, three of her sons, and a few of her cousins, but I needed to meet Lady Soul.

I recall in December of 1980 I was watching Saturday Night Live with Kenny Edmonds (a/k/a Babyface) and she did “United Together” and “Can’t Turn You Loose” on there, and he said, “I want to write for her one day”. Well that day did indeed come as he ended up writing and producing her for Arista Records with “Honey”, “Willing To Forgive” and “It Hurts Like Hell”.

It seemed everytime I wanted to see her in concert, the show was cancelled for one reason or another. Post the little boy event in 1964, I finally saw her in concert in Cleveland, Ohio in 1992. Her youngest son Kecalf  was going to take me backstage to meet her, but due to a lost diamond earring while she was performing on stage that night, her mood was not congruent to meet anyone that night – sighs.

I saw her in concert in Dayton, Ohio in 1994 and then again in 1994, but 1998, I felt like I hit the lottery – I finally met her in Jacksonville, Florida. By coincidence we stayed at the same hotel and when her limo pulled up after the concert there, it was like the Red Sea had parted! I spoke with her briefly, held her hand and got an autograph. My mission in life was accomplished. I had finally met the woman whose music has been the soundtrack of my very existence.

On a few other occasions, I would  see her in concert in Detroit, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Vienna (Wolf Trap), Atlanta, Louisville and the ultimate was in her dressing room (with David Nathan) after a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame tribute to Sam Cooke in Cleveland in 2005. I got to kiss the Queen on the cheek. Unfortunately her then-boyfriend Willie Wilkerson didn’t know how to operate my camera properly and overexposed the film roll much to my total disappointment.

I have enjoyed several other female singers over the years, but none have touched me like Aretha Louise Franklin. I mean Gladys Knight is special, Chaka Khan is special, and I was a Supremes fan, but there is something very different about Aretha. Quite frankly she touches a nerve in one’s soul that no other singer, male or female touches. Her vocal melismas, riffs, runs and soars are unmatched.

For me there is Aretha – and then there are the rest. Why Aretha,  one may ask? She is simply the best to ever step in front of a microphone, and her music will live forever.