Acknowledging the fourth anniversary of her transition (August 16, 2018), we continue to acknowledge the immense contribution that Aretha Franklin has made to the lives of so many the world over…

Aretha At The Apollo Theater, Harlem, New York, June 1971
by Derek Overton 

I remember like it was yesterday.

I was 14 years old, when some older friends threw me in the back seat of their car, gave me a can of beer. Then we sped off to the Apollo Theater in Harlem.

They knew I loved Aretha, and she was playing there that week.   As we sat in our balcony seats, I wasn’t prepared. This short lady in a very short fro, strode out onstage to an energetic version of “Respect”!  Whew.  What a night it turned out to be. I pretty much witnessed the same set that would appear on her Live At Fillmore West album (recorded in March and released in May)

One memory from that night is Aretha sitting on a horse drawn carriage singing “Call Me”, and her at the piano with clouds of smoke around her as she sang “You’re All I Need To Get By”! I was truly mesmerized that night. And of course by the time she ended “Dr. Feelgood” to surge into “Spirit In The Dark”, Ree Ree turned the Apollo into a Baptist church!!!!

I will cherish that night until eternity.

“Young, Gifted & Black!”
By Milik Robinson (Black Music Archive)

(Photo from the NATRA convention in Philadelphia, 1972)

I am often asked, “when did you first hear Aretha Franklin?” To be frank, I don’t remember. I grew up in a Southern Baptist church, so I always knew who she was. However, I do remember when I became a fan.

I was about 10 or 11. YouTube was in its early stages and loads of rare music and performances of classic artists were widely available (oh, the joys of platforms before capitalism and commercialism ruined them).

The song was, “Young Gifted and Black” the title track from the album of the same name. The opening chords play, and Aretha comes in backed by her singers The Prima Donnas in harmony they sing, “to be young gifted and black…”

With the piano playing softly they continue, “oh what a lovely precious thing…” Then with the fervor of a preacher, Aretha begins to vamp up, “oh when you’re…” She’s filling the spirit and sings, “yes, yes when you’re!” The Prima Donnas join in with her to exclaim, “YOUNG!” There then is sudden silence.

You didn’t need to be present to feel the spirit of the holy ghost had entered that recording studio. With the urgency and emotion of a church mother who has leaped to her feet, arms lifted to give all praise and honor to God, Aretha wails, “YEAH! THANK YOU, JESUS!”

And that was it.

That was the moment Aretha Louise Franklin became my favorite singer.

I replayed that part over and over again. I don’t know what it was about that moment, but it moved me. Months later for my birthday, I used the money I received to purchase the CD, so I could listen to that part as much as I pleased.

Today, I still cannot verbalize why that part moved me the way that it did. Yet, if someone asked me why Aretha Franklin is my favorite singer, I can’t give a clear answer because all I know is that she is.

Aretha never traveled South often to perform, but she coincidentally come to my hometown in North Carolina in 2016. It was the first and only time that I saw her in the flesh, and you guessed it? I don’t remember anything from that night!

My love and memories of Aretha Franklin are akin to a painter mixing all his colors together until it becomes one. It’s just one recollection of love that I have for her. But the colored spot in the mix is the moment that started it all.