The holiday season isn’t complete without the sounds of one of the most classic R&B Christmas albums ever recorded; The TemptationsGive Love at Christmas. The Temptations roster for this soulful album included Otis Williams, Dennis Edwards, Glenn Leonard, Richard Street, and Melvin Franklin. The group crafted the household staple released in 1980 that is a part of America’s soundtrack. While this isn’t the Temptations first holiday themed album, it has been deemed as one of the most memorable. Ask anyone what their favorite Temptations Christmas song is and they will surely mention “Silent Night,” with Melvin Frank’s bass filled voice opens the track with “T’was the night before Christmas,” and sign’s off with infamous line “Merry Christmas from the Temptations!”
In an interview with NMAAM earlier this year, founding member of the group Otis Williams expressed that he is used to hearing that people consider the Give Love at Christmas album a classic. “People love our version of ‘Silent Night.’ I think we did a great rendition of such a fantastic song to begin with. All we did was put our imprint on it and it’s been a hugely successful record. We did that album in the 1980s and it’s still a very popular one when Christmas rolls around now,” explained Williams. The song was recorded in the 1970s on their first holiday album; The Temptations Christmas Card, but the updated six-minute version is the one most refer to as the ultimate classic as the Temptations tap into their gospel roots to conjure up the true spirit of the holidays.
The Give Love at Christmas album is filled with the Motown sound as the tempting Temptations showcase their smooth harmonies that are evident on the hits during their hey day when they ruled the charts. The album features songs such as the introduction, “Give Love on Christmas Day,” that highlights Glenn Leonard’s falsetto on lead.
“Everything for Christmas” has harmonizing background vocals with Richard Street taking the lead, making listeners want to hang the mistletoe and the stockings with care.
“The Christmas Song” features various members on lead vocals.
Dennis Edwards turns “This Christmas” into his own soulful version that shines and makes you want to two-step.
The group tackles another standard that has been recorded multiple times over the years, “The Little Drummer Boy.” The harmonies march to the beat of the drum throughout the song.
Each song on the album is a reminder of why the Temptations have reigned as one of the greatest groups of all time by putting their signature stamp of soul on every single song.
So, when you are looking to fill your stereo with ‘yuletide carols, old and new,’ The Temptations Give Love at Christmas album is the perfect soundtrack as you trim the tree and spend time with loved ones this holiday season. Happy Holidays!
The lyrics were written 40 years ago, heralding a new America where dancing would be a path to freedom, where music would be a catalyst for inclusion and where people of different colors would play one another’s songs. About this and so many other things, Funkadelic was right. There is indeed a party going on right now on the mothership, and there are no VIP passes. Its all-inclusive.
One Nation Under a Groove- This is a dream that represents the opportunity to educate, awe and inspire the nation. And we are doing just that. To date, the National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM) educated 8,000 youth on the innovative and creative ways in which African Americans expressed themselves through the use of limited resources and memory to create music; connected 1,200 youth with prominent artists to cultivate a better understanding of the cultural and historical significance of African American music; hosted 5,650 adults through social networking programing that engaged them in discussions about America’s music culture; and reached 117,150 audience members through the provision of platforms for emerging artists to showcase their talents. Yet, there is still more we can do!
We need your help, now more than ever, to continue connecting the many voices that form the soundtrack of our American lives. With your support, we can create a museum that will inspire children of all backgrounds to read, write, and dream in unity. Together, we can create One Nation Under a Groove! Please donate today!
$100 will sponsor one artist to learn from professionals who have excelled in their music career during a Fine-Tuning Master class.
$150 will teach middle and high school aged children the art of writing lyrics through the Innovation of Lyrics and Spoken Word program.
$200 will purchase harmonicas for 20 youth to participate in From Nothing to Something program.
$300 will purchase spoons for 150 youth to participate in From Nothing to Something program.
$500 will further the stimulating monthly discussion that Sips & Stanzas provides to adults.
$1200 will provide 80 high school students a day to connect with prominent artists to gain leadership practice and a better understanding of cultural and historical significance of music created and performed by African Americans in Music Legends and Heroes program.
Gospel singer Koryn Hawthorne is breaking down doors and cementing her place on America’s soundtrack. At 2o years old, the singer has already had the longest reign on Billboard’s Hot Gospel Songs chart by a woman for “Won’t He Do It” with 35 weeks in the number one spot. The track breaks Tamala Mann’s “Take Me to the King” record which crowned the chart for 25 weeks in 2012-2013.
Koryn grew up singing in her family’s church in Louisiana, but her first public appearance was in a talent showcase in Las Vegas where she won top honors in her category. Influenced by the likes of musical giants Tina Turner, Etta James, Mary J. Blige, Michael Jackson, and gospel greats like Fred Hammond, Mary Mary, and Kirk Franklin, helped hone her musical resume. By age 11, she was auditioning for singing competitions such as America’s Got Talent, X Factor, and American Idol. During her time on American Idol, she was sent home early for sticking with the gospel genre that was in her heart. That experience eventually gave her the push she needed to try out for The Voice for its Season 8 competition. As fate would have it, Hawthorne made it to the finals of The Voice as part of super producer Pharrell Williams team. On her website, she explains, “The first thing Pharrell said to me is, ‘We’ve GOT to do gospel,’ which was incredible! So, the first chance we got, I did ‘How Great Thou Art.’” She adds that doing the show helped to shape her vision of her artistry. “For me, The Voice wasn’t about choosing the best songs, or picking songs to best demonstrate my vocal range, but about choosing songs with the best message,” she says. “I thought, ‘God gave me this platform and I need to inspire people, even if I’m not here to win.’”
After the singing competition, Hawthorne found her way to RCA Inspiration where she found her musical match. In 2017, she collaborated with a lineup of hit-making producers and songwriters including Warryn Campbell and Bernie Herms to release her debut EP, Koryn Hawthorne. That debut garnered her two Stellar Award nominations earlier this year.
She released her full length album Unstoppable in July 2018, which reached number one on the Top Gospel Albums chart, and in an interview with CBN News, she said the title of the album goes hand in hand with the story of her life and career. “I felt like it would be the perfect name,” she toldCBN News. “Throughout the course of my life, God has always orchestrated my steps. The purpose that God has over my life is unstoppable and nobody can stop that. With this album, I want to encourage other people with that. Everybody has a purpose and at this time, it’s necessary to find out what your purpose is and be unstoppable in it.”
The title track “Unstoppable” expresses the relentless pursuit of God’s plan. On the album, Koryn’s versatility is on full display from up-tempo songs to raising her fist in victory in the song “Warriors.” It’s obvious that Hawthorne immerses herself into every song she sings to minister to her audience.
The singer appeared on the 2018 Black Music Honors to pay tribute to former Temptations front man Dennis Edwards. Hawthorne also won her first Dove Award this year in the Contemporary Gospel/Urban Recorded Song of the Year category for her hit, “Won’t He Do It.” The single was originally written and conceived for television drama, Greenleaf’s soundtrack. Hawthorne explained on her website that it was important for the song to resonate with fans. “But the most important thing was for the song to sound like I wrote it myself. So, I thought about things in my life, what God has done for me. I don’t ever want to sing something that doesn’t feel like me. My number one rule is that if you don’t feel it, other people won’t.”
The singer also is getting into the Christmas spirit. In November, she released Christmas songs, “First Noel” and “This Christmas” as her first holiday recordings.
With her distinctive vocal prowess and artistry, Koryn Hawthorne continues making her mark as one of the most exciting new voices infusing gospel into her generation.
The sound of funk is a major component of America’s soundtrack. One particular song made history on November 18, 1978 peaking at number 28 on the Hot 100 Billboard Charts; Funkadelic’s “One Nation Under a Groove.” It’s a song that is a rousing anthem of union and community. George Clinton founded the groups Parliament and its counterpart Funkadelic paving the way for funk groups to follow in their footsteps. In 1978-1979, the groups racked up four Number One R&B hits: “Flash Light,” “One Nation Under a Groove,” Aqua Boogie” and “(Not Just) Knee Deep.” Funkadelic spoke with The Guardian earlier this year about how the creation of the funk anthem, “One Nation Under a Grove” came to fruition.
“We’d played a gig in Washington DC and afterwards two young girls, LaTanya and Darlene, came up to the car and told us it was the best concert they’d ever seen. They said: ‘It was like one nation under a groove.’ As soon as I heard that, I knew it had to become a song,” said group founder George Clinton. Clinton went on to say he wanted the song to have the silky sounds of an R&B classic, and he used his influences of The Temptations, gospel music, as well as a catchphrase from a movie. “I also took a catchphrase used by the Mantan Moreland chauffer character in the Charlie Chan movies, when he was ready to run from the ghost: ‘Feet, don’t fail me now!’ And the line ‘Dance your way out of your constrictions’ is about people’s hang-ups: you can deal with them by being grumpy or with a smile,” explained Clinton.
The song that is all about uniting humanity and gave Funkadelic the guitar slapping funky hit they needed in 1978. The song’s lyrics promote social and racial progress. “Ready or not, here we come, getting’ down on the one which we believe in,” signifies finding a way to knock down barriers in togetherness. The lyrics, “So wide you can’t get around it, so low you can’t get under it, so high you can’t get over it,” are seemingly the roadblocks and challenges you find along the way, but later in the song, “With the groove our only guide, we shall all be moved,” is the reminder that banding as one will help overcome it. Freedom is the key in the song. The lyric “We shall all be moved” connotates language similar to the civil rights movement, America’s constitution, and religion in the King James Bible. However, there are a few that will insist on staying in “Hang up alley way” while the rest of the world continues “Getting down for the funk of it.”
Guitarist Michael “Kid Funkadelic” Hampton added, “I always took “One Nation Under a Groove” to mean that some of the world’s problems are too big to change, so we might as well just groove.”
The National Museum of African American Music is celebrating the mixture of genres with a gallery room called “One Nation Under a Groove.” Learn more about the gallery room here, under “Thriller.”
America’s musical soundtrack isn’t complete without mentioning the contributions of African American recording artists from every genre. From spirituals sang by our ancestors to the booming bass of hip hop, there’s no separating the importance of music from history. To close the gap, some artists have taken matters into their own hands, by meshing the arts with the music.
Most recently, T.I. created a pop-up Trap Museum in Atlanta to celebrate the history of trap music. Among the art in the museum were paintings, photographs, and exhibits that paid homage to T.I. and other Atlanta rappers such as Migos, 2 Chainz, Gucci Mane, and other non-Atlanta artists like Rick Ross, Pusha T, and Meek Mill. In an interview with Billboard, T.I. explained why he decided to curate his own museum. “I want to celebrate the culture and not just me. The easy thing for me to do is set up a show and it just be me and perform all the songs from trap music, which I was tempted to do. The genre has become so significant that I felt it deserved more than that. It’s really going to be a place where people can take pictures and kind of interact.”
Earlier this year, Beyoncé and Jay-Z, dropped the instantly viral first video for their surprise joint album, Everything Is Love, which accompanies the trap song “Apesh**” and which was shot exclusively in and around Paris’s iconic Louvre museum. The video recognizes “forgotten” Black artists, since according to the Amsterdam Student, world renowned museums like the Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Louvre, and the Rijksmuseum have overlooked art by African Americans, limiting it to white men.
Other American music museums do have some artifacts that represent Black music, from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Museum of Pop Culture, The Smithsonian, and the Grammy Museum, as well as all the Hard Rock Cafes around the country. The National Museum of African American Music will be an all-inclusive place to recognize the works of African American artists across a wide span of genres with displays on music imported by slaves, devotional music, gospel, minstrel, ragtime, jazz, blues, rhythm & blues, rock ‘n’ roll, hip hop, and more. This is the only museum dedicated to preserving the legacy and celebrating the accomplishments of the many music genres created, influenced and inspired by African Americans. The collections and galleries that will be in the museum will educate, preserve, and celebrate the rich influence Black people have had on America’s music in over 50 genres.
Some artists say it’s been a long time in the making. Otis Williams, founding member of the legendary group The Temptations says it’s also important to preserve African American history so that generations to come will know the stories. “It’s very important because people need to know about the history of the artists that have brought so much enjoyment to people. It’s important to introduce the new generations to history. It’s important to have [the museum] so you can historically characterize everything so people can say they remember these guys and girls,” said Williams. 2017 Black Music Honors Crossover Music Icon, Jody Watley says agrees that’s important to have a place like the National Museum of African American Music to hold the keys to history. “It’s so necessary and so important. Rhythm and blues and soul music is the foundation for so many music genres in America. It is American music and influenced generations of people. To have that history which is often lost in our country, because it’s not just for us, it’s for the world. To have a place that is honoring the rich and profound richness of the legacy of our music, which is music for the world to me,” said Watley.
Trap music is another layer that makes America’s soundtrack. It’s referred to as a brand of southern street hustler rap, featuring synthesizer sounds, booming bass and 808 drums. The sub-genre focuses on lyrics about selling drugs, street violence, and the police.
One of the innovators of the sub-genre trap music, is rapper T.I. Earlier this year, Tip Harris staked his claim as the inventor of the popular sound. He claimed the music started with his 2003 album Trap Muzik. Trap music is described as a lifestyle and the term “trap” is short for “trap house,” which is where drug dealers operate out of.
With his 10th and most recent studio album, Dime Trap, T.I. goes deeper into the halls of trap music, the philosophy, and the future of it.
On “The Weekend,” he describes the album as a “Ted Talk for hustlers,” saying it shouldn’t be limited to lyrics about cooking in the trap house or dealing with the police, but instead anything from a hustler’s life, from falling in love, to having a child, can be rapped about. He closes the track out by stating that trap music doesn’t have to be one-dimensional.
Tip’s new music takes on that philosophy by diving into his personal life as a married man with a rocky relationship, six kids, and handling it in the public eye. On the album, T.I. berates himself for his failures as a husband and being a bad example to his kids. He taps into his vulnerable side with a realization that he had someone there by his side the entire time. In an interview with Apple Beats Music, the rapper revealed his reasoning for discussing his personal issues. “I’ve always kind of shied away from even speaking on those types of topics in my music,” T.I. added. “I felt like this is a time where the music is dope. I just felt that I had to lay it out, I had to put my cards face up on the table.”
The rest of the album touches on themes of positive vibes with T.I. reflecting on the joy in his life, and his evolution of trap music takes him down the sentimental road while he maintains his hard edge as the “King of the South.” He has some collaborations on the album including the song “Jefe” with Meek Mill that features a Latin feel. He also has songs featuring Yo Gotti, Anderson .Paak, Young Thug, Jeezy, YFN Lucci, and Teyana Taylor to name a few.
The album boasts a variety of lyrical content that pushes the limits of trap music and showcases Tip’s ability to infuse his maturity and vulnerability into an album that is a worthy contribution to America’s hip hop soundtrack.
In 1998, songbird Tamia took the music industry by storm with her angelic voice that can tackle anything from R&B, neo-soul, gospel, jazz, and hip hop. America’s soundtrack wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Tamia’s contributions. This year, Tamia is celebrating some career milestones including her 20th anniversary in the industry, her hit single “So Into You” turned 20 years old, and she released her 7th album, Passion Like Fire. On her website, the singer talks about how her musical anniversary is still inspiring her. “After 20 years I continue to be inspired by the places I visit and the people I meet, which allows me to include a piece of my experiences in the art I create.”
Tamia Rising Star
Tamia’s first big break came when she collaborated with the legendary Quincy Jones on the Q’s Jook Joint album in 1998 with the hit single, “You Put a Move on My Heart.”
Following the success of that album, she released her self-titled debut album, which earned her two GRAMMY nominations, Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for “You’ve Put A Move On My Heart;” Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group with Vocal for “Slow Jams” featuring Babyface, and Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals for her work with Brandy, Gladys Knight and Chaka Khan on the single “Missing You” from the Set It Off movie soundtrack.
In an interview with the L.A. Times, Tamia noted that she loves seeing just how timeless the song “So Into You” is 20 years later with newer artists performing covers.
“I’ve loved seeing other artists perform it over the years. Childish Gambino did a cover. I just saw Kehlani perform it and she’s only 23. It’s like the people playing my stuff back when “You Put a Move on My Heart” came out and the first album, now their kids are listening to it too. I’m not that old myself, so it’s a pretty amazing feeling to know that you have a song that has stood the test of time,” she told the L.A. Times.
Hitting Her Stride and Influencing Music Culture
In early 2000, Tamia kept hitting her stride by winning an NAACP Image Award for her classic hit “Spend My Life with You” with R&B singer Eric Benet. The song was also nominated for a GRAMMY.
Tamia’s fifth studio album Beautiful Surprise garnered two more GRAMMY nominations in 2013. On the album the singer explored a multitude of genres showcasing her artist creativity. Her 2015 album Love Life is her highest charting album to date, reaching the top of the Billboard R&B chart.
Tamia is also the founder of her own label, Plus 1 Music Group and has released her albums Between Friends, Greatest Hits, Beautiful Surprise, and her newest album, Passion Like Fire. After 20 years in the business, Tamia attributes her longevity and success to a key element; songwriting. “It started with getting involved in the writing process. I have to be out here selling this music, it has to come from me. I have to be able to connect with it, and it starts with being a part of the writing process,” she told the L.A. Times. The current single “Leave it Smokin’” is a sultry smooth single that has been climbing the Billboard charts.
NMAAM Celebrations of Legends Gala
Earlier this year, Tamia was one of the featured tribute artists for the fifth annual Celebration of Legends Gala at War Memorial Auditorium. She paid tribute to gospel singer Yolanda Adams, and told NMAAM on the red carpet that Yolanda was one of her influences.
“I am a part of the Yolanda Adams tribute and she has inspired me so much over the years. Music is such an amazing thing, it touches the soul, it speaks heart to heart, and it’s very important to just give them their roses,” said Tamia.
Here’s to hoping the six time GRAMMY nominee will continue making music for 20 more years and contributing to America’s soundtrack, and inspiring artists of the present and future.
You can learn more about NMAAM events by visiting our website.
America’s soundtrack isn’t complete without mentioning newer acts that are putting their stamp on the R&B/Soul genre. Leon Bridges looks and sounds like a throwback to the 60s era with his permed wavy hair, and a voice that has prompted comparisons to legends like Sam Cooke and Otis Redding. The Texas native told GQ in an interview earlier this year that he doesn’t want to be compared to Cooke because his style is different. “”I wanna shine,” he told GQ. “Of course, the inspiration’s there, but you know, my music, my writing is nothing like Sam Cooke.” His first album, Coming Home in 2015, had a 60s musical vibe to it, but Bridges told GQ the structures and compositions weren’t something you would have heard in that decade.
The Making of an R&B Star
The R&B star, born as Todd Michael Bridges, honed his musical talent performing in and around his native Fort Worth, Texas. He gained industry interest with his SoundCloud uploads of multiple recordings. He eventually signed to Columbia Records, where he released his debut album. Coming Home debuted at number six on the Billboard 200 and was nominated for a GRAMMY for Best R&B Album.
The video for one of the album’s singles “River” was also nominated.
“Better Man” was also featured in the 2018 film Pacific Rim Uprising.
Influencing the Next Generation of Musicians
In 2016, Bridges took on a role as a collaborator by co-writing and being featured on Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Kevin,” and Kacey Musgraves’, “Present Without a Bow.” He also recorded “On My Own” with Lecrae for Birth of a Nation: The Inspired by Album and recorded twice with Gary Clark Jr., on a collaborative cover of Neil Young’s “Ohio.”
In 2018, Bridges released “Bet Ain’t Worth the Hand,” “Bad Bad News,” and then “Beyond” as the first singles off his second album, Good Thing which hit the Top Ten.
Impact on America’s Soundtrack
His new album Good Thing is a newer more contemporary sound that remixes Bridges soulful signature with the R&B of today. In an interview with NPR, Bridges assures his fans that he hasn’t departed from his sound, “I came into the whole music industry with this retro sound. That’s still a part of me,” Bridges says. “But that doesn’t totally define who I am as an artist.”
Whatever direction Bridges goes in from here, he’s still weaving his soulful contribution into America’s soundtrack. You can learn more about Leon Bridges and others African Americans who are influencing the music industry by visiting the NMAAM website.
This week marks the untimely death of Aaliyah. America’s soundtrack wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the late rising star’s musical impact on R&B. Aaliyah Haughton was born on January 16, 1979 in Brooklyn, New York, but was raised in Detroit, Michigan. At the age of 11, the young singer competed on the television show Star Search, but didn’t walk away with a win.
However, later that year, she performed with the legendary Gladys Knight who was the former wife of her uncle and manager, Barry Hankerson, at a stint in Las Vegas.
Becoming a Musical Legend
At 15 years old, Aaliyah took the industry by storm with her 1994 debut album Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number, produced by R. Kelly.
The album sold over a million copies and earned platinum status based on the success of two hit singles form the record, “Back and Forth,” and her rendition of the Isley Brothers’ hit, “At Your Best (You Are Love).”
While still in high school, Aaliyah released her sophomore album, One in a Million in 1996, produced by dynamic duo Timbaland and Missy Elliott. The album showcased her maturity along with a seductive edge with laid back hip hop beats.
The album sold two million copies. The first single, “If Your Girl Only Knew,” went double platinum and contains Timbaland’s signature syncopated beats and Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott’s lyrics. “4 Page Letter” and “Hot Like Fire” were also hits.
Landing in the Musical Spotlight
Aaliyah landed in the spotlight in 1997 when she recorded “Journey to the Past,” the Academy Award nominated theme song for the film Anastasia. She performed the song during the 1998 Oscars.
On her next soundtrack effort, “Are You That Somebody?” for the 1998 film Dr. Dolittle, starring Eddie Murphy, went to number one on the R&B charts and earned Aaliyah her first GRAMMY nomination.
In 2000, the singer made her acting debut in the film Romeo Must Die, opposite martial arts star Jet Li in a Romeo and Juliet inspired story. She was the executive producer of the movie’s soundtrack and performed the hit, “Try Again,” which landed her another GRAMMY nomination as well as two MTV Music Awards for Best Female Video and Best Video from a Film.
In July 2001, her third album Aaliyah was released and reached number 2 on the Billboard album chart. It sold 2.4 million copies worldwide. Aaliyah featured the smash singles “We Need a Resolution,” “More Than A Woman,” and “Rock the Boat”. The same year, she was working on the film Queen of the Damned, and signed on to appear in two upcoming sequels of the blockbuster thriller, The Matrix.
The Death of an R&B Star
Then tragedy struck. August 25, 2001, 22-year-old Aaliyah was killed when a small Cessna passenger plane carrying the star and her video crew crashed and burst into flames shortly after takeoff in the Bahamas. They had just finished working on her video “Rock the Boat.” Aaliyah and seven others, including the pilot are believed to have died instantly, and a ninth passenger passed away later at a hospital.
At the end of 2002, the posthumous album, I Care 4 U, hit the charts at number three; it mixed some of the singer’s biggest hits with a selection of unreleased material. The title track was a Top 20 pop hit, and “Miss You” topped the R&B charts early the next year.
Even 17 years later, Aaliyah’s musical impact is still being felt from her cutting-edge style to being ahead of her contemporaries by not being afraid of taking chances on a new sound. Her music has been sampled by Drake, Jennifer Lopez, Kendrick Lamar, Jay Z, The Weeknd and many more over the years. While it’s impossible to know whether the nicknamed, “Baby Girl” would have ended up following the trends that surfaced in the industry after her death, but one thing is for certain, her music is timeless and still lives on.
Nashville Music Museum
For more information on African American musicians, producers, and industry leaders, visit NMAAM.
The world has lost an icon that shaped the genre known as soul. Aretha Franklin passed away August 16 at the age of 76. America’s soundtrack wouldn’t be complete without the soulful vocal stylings of Aretha Franklin. The Queen of Soul broke barriers and paved the way for those following in her footsteps. Her voice was the epitome of gospel, soul, and the blues all rolled into one making her one of the greatest singers of all time.
Aretha Franklin was born on March 25, 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee and grew up in Detroit to Baptist preacher, Reverend Clarence LaVaughn “C.L.” Franklin and gospel singer Barbara Siggers Franklin. By the time she was 10, her mother passed away and the family relocated to Detroit, Michigan where C.L. began preaching at New Bethel Baptist Church where he gained national recognition. His services were broadcast locally and in other urban markets around the country, and 60 of his sermons, including the legendary “The Eagle Stirreth Her Nest,” were released in album form. Aretha got the best musical education with some of the greatest vocalists of the gospel genre that were frequent guests at the Franklin household. Aretha and her siblings great up listening to Clara Ward, Mahalia Jackson, and James Cleveland.
Making African American Musical History
Starting at an early age, Aretha began singing at her father’s church and by the age of 14, her first recordings turned up on an album called Spirituals. Spirituals was released locally on the J.V.B. label in 1956 and re-released on the Battle label in 1962. Aretha’s five tracks formed the basis of the 1964 album Songs of Faith: The Gospel Sound of Aretha Franklin, issued on Checker Records, with additional material recorded by Franklin at services in other locations. She performed with C.L’s traveling revival show and became friends with Sam Cooke. Although gospel music was her foundation, Franklin also drew her musical prowess from blues and jazz legends such as Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, and Sarah Vaughn to help develop her own vocal stylings. She was also inspired by Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, and Nat King Cole, Lavern Baker, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. With a diverse range of influences, Franklin was able to fuse them all together to speak to the world in her own voice that defined soul music. Before she signed with Atlantic, she spent six years at Columbia Records. She was signed to the label in 1960 by John Hammond, the label’s legendary producer and talent scout, who’d heard a demo she cut in New York.
Inspiring a New Wave of Artists
In an interview with SoulTracks, Sam Cooke’s younger brother L.C. Cooke talked about writing Aretha Franklin’s song “Once in a While (Please Answer Me). “I was on my way to record in Atlanta, Georgia. So, I had just gotten out the shower, and had a towel wrapped around me. Aretha Franklin had stopped by, so I came out singing that song, she asked me what it was and I told her it was something I wrote. Aretha sat on my bed and cried until I gave her that song. That girl sat there and literally cried until I said I’ll let you record it. She said, “you can write another song, I just love that song. So, I said okay, you can have it,” said L.C.
Meanwhile Franklin’s tenure at Columbia yielded nine R&B hits including “Today I Sing the Blues” and “Runnin’ Out of Fools.” She also scored some pop crossover hits including “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody” and “Won’t Be Long.” The songs were were far removed from the fiery, gospel-tinged soul for which she would become known.
Jerry Wexler signed Franklin when her contract with Columbia expired. With her switch to Atlantic in 1966, Aretha proceeded to revolutionize soul music with some of the genre’s greatest recordings. Her reign began with her first Atlantic single, “I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Loved You),” a performance that unleashed the full force of Franklin’s mezzo-soprano.
Offering call-and-response background vocals on this and other tracks were Aretha’s sisters, Carolyn and Erma. The Sweet Inspirations, a Memphis-based vocal quartet that included Cissy Houston, also contributed background vocals to Franklin’s work in the studio and onstage.
Aretha Franklin and America’s Soundtrack
Franklin’s most significant contribution to America’s soundtrack landed in the form of “Respect,” which was her soulful take on the Otis Redding penned song.
The song reached number one on both the R&B and Pop charts, earning Franklin her first two GRAMMYS. It was the opening song on 1967’s I Never Loved a Man the Way I Loved You. Other songs from the album included “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man,” “Dr. Feelgood” and her cover of “A Change Is Gonna Come,” Sam Cooke’s civil rights-era anthem.
Her next three albums; Aretha Arrives (1967), Lady Soul (1968) and Aretha Now (1968)—included “Chain of Fools,” “Think,” “Baby, I Love You,” “Since You’ve Been Gone (Sweet Sweet Baby)” and a soulful rendering of Carole King’s “A Natural Woman (You Make Me Feel Like).”
Her fifth Atlantic album, Aretha in Paris (1968) was recorded live in Europe. In 1968, she was hailed the Queen of Soul when legendary deejay Pervis Spann, the Blues Man, placed a crown on her head during a performance in Chicago. In 1968, Franklin performed at the funeral of her father’s friend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., where she paid tribute to him with a stirring rendition of “Precious Lord.”
In the 1970s, Franklin saw even more success as she released albums Spirit in the Dark (1970), Aretha Live at Fillmore West (1971), Young, Gifted and Black (1972) and Amazing Grace (1972). Spirit in the Dark featured five songs written by Franklin, which was more than on any album she released. Her 14th album You was released in 1975 and her tenure with Atlantic Records came to an end in 1979 after 19 albums. Franklin won eight consecutive GRAMMY Awards for Best R&B Female Vocal Performance, the last one for her 1974 single, “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing.”
That same year her father was shot during a home robbery and went into a coma and never recovered. Aretha’s next home was Arista Records. In 1982, she released Jump to It, produced by Luther Vandross, earning another GRAMMY nomination.
In 1985 Franklin returned to the top of the charts with another hit album: the pop record Who’s Zoomin’ Who? Featuring the single “Freeway of Love,” as well as a collaboration with the band The Eurythmics, making that record one of Aretha’s biggest-selling albums. In 1987, Franklin became the first female artist to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
That same year, she released the album One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, which won the GRAMMY for Best Soul Gospel Performance. Franklin scored the second number one pop hit of her career, “I Knew You Were Waiting (for Me),” a duet with George Michael.
Continuing Her Reign as a Musical Influence
In 1993, she was invited to sing at former President Bill Clinton’s inauguration and the following year she received both a GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award and Kennedy Center Honors. She also later stood in for Luciano Pavarotti, who was too ill to accept his Lifetime Achievement Award, with her rendition of “Nessun Dorma.”
In 1998, Franklin was back on the charts with A Rose Is Still a Rose which was written and produced by Lauryn Hill.
In 2003, Franklin released her final studio album on Arista, So Damn Happy, and left the label to found Aretha Records. Two years later, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and became the second woman ever to be inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame. In 2008 she received her 18th GRAMMY Award for “Never Gonna Break My Faith,” a collaboration with Mary J. Blige.
She was also invited to sing at the 2009 inauguration of former President Barack Obama.
In 2011 Franklin released her first album on her own label, A Woman Falling Out of Love. In 2014, Franklin released Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics which reached number three on the R&B charts.
Celebrating Her Achievements for African Americans in Music History
Franklin was able to stay relevant and have hits over the course of her six-decade career crafting a sound and foundation that music in the future will follow forever. Over the course of her career, she earned 44 GRAMMY nominations, 18 GRAMMY Awards, and many more accolades. While her music lives on, the spirit and soul of Aretha Franklin will continue to be celebrated for years to come. Rest in peace Queen of Soul. We thank you for the soulful music, Aretha Franklin!
Get NMAAM's e-newsletter
Stay current on the latest news, events, programs, and more!