Majesty and Urgency: Aretha Franklin Remembered, By Her Peers and Her Heirs

Aug 16, 2018

Aretha Franklin, who died on Thursday at 76, made an impression on all who heard her — but especially those who worked with her.

WBGO News reached out to a number of artists, presenters and producers whose lives she touched — like Bettye LaVette, who worked the same circuit in Detroit, and even shared the same hairdresser; and Leo Sacks, who produced the archival boxed set Take a Look: Aretha Franklin Complete on Columbia

"She just had this urgency in her voice," says Dianne Reeves, a 2018 NEA Jazz Master and one of countless vocalists inspired by Aretha. "When I tell people, if they really want to hear how spirit can be transferred, then they should listen to the Amazing Grace album. Because there's no other live album, for me, that is like that record. To this day I still listen to that record and I still get goosebumps."

Producer George Wein, who presented Franklin with the Duke Ellington Orchestra at the 1962 Newport Jazz Festival, says he considers himself fortunate to have worked with her. Guitarist Russell Malone feels much the same about his time onstage with the great singer, on the VH1 Divas concert in 2001 and again in 2016. "It was very intimidating," he says, "because she had such presence on the bandstand."

"For her time, the best singer, male or female," declares WBGO's Bob Porter, singling out her late-1960s and early '70s output as a pinnacle.

But, Porter adds: "The fact of the matter is, she never lost the ability to communicate."