Aretha 101: Celebrating the Queen of Soul

Boston University

William McKeen is the Chair of the Department of Journalism at Boston University, where he also teaches media history, literary journalism, and rock ‘n’ roll history.  He is the author or editor of 13 books, including Everybody Had an OceanToo Old to Die Young and Rock and Roll is Here to Stay.  



Aretha Franklin’s voice was a gift from God, so it’s appropriate that she grew up singing in her father’s church. Her talent was too great to be kept secret, so as a young woman, she was signed to Columbia Records by John Hammond. What could go wrong? Hammond was the force behind Robert Johnson, Bessie Smith, Benny Goodman and — eventually — Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Ray Vaughan. But lots went wrong. Aretha Franklin’s recordings for industry giant Columbia Records were … OK. After her five-year contract expired, Jerry Wexler pounced. Wexler was with independent label Atlantic Records. He had the genius idea of taking Aretha Franklin south, to a small studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. On an afternoon in 1966, her direction — and the direction of popular music — was forever changed. And then Aretha disappeared.


Discussion Questions:

1.)    How did Jerry Wexler succeed with Aretha Franklin and why did John Hammond fail?

2.)    What was the key element in the Muscle Shoals studio that made Franklin comfortable?





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I think Elvis also brought soul music in many of his songs

I think Elvis contributed to soul music

11 months ago
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