Musician Biographies » Aretha Franklin » Down but Never Out - Taking A Break, Love Again, Spirit Of Success, Amazing Grace, Good-bye To Old Friends

Down but Never Out - Spirit Of Success

aretha gospel album live

Aretha's career got back on track in 1970. She released the album Spirit in the Dark, which got great reviews. The title track was a gospel-style number with a rock beat. “Don't Play That Song” was the biggest hit, and it garnered Aretha yet another Grammy Award.

Aretha's live performances received even greater reviews. In Spain, she performed at a bullfighting arena for 40,000 people. She appeared at the Apollo Theater in Harlem and “sang soulfully—she sighed, screamed, hollered, and sang,” according to the New York Times. The power of Aretha's live performances thrilled her old fans and made new fans of unlikely people. Some of the unlikeliest fans were the hippies of San Francisco.

In 1971, Jerry Wexler arranged for Aretha to perform a concert at the Fillmore West, an auditorium that was famous for presenting hard-edged bands like the Grateful Dead. No one in Aretha's team knew what to expect from a San Francisco audience. There was no need to worry—the flower children loved Aretha! Aretha was comfortable in the crowded room, performing with a band of great soul musicians brought together especially for the event. She brought surprise guest Ray Charles onstage to perform “Spirit in the Dark” with her. Their duet brought the house down. Atlantic's recording of the concert became one of Aretha's most successful albums.

Amazing Grace

In January 1972, Aretha recorded her first gospel album since becoming a major star. Jerry Wexler supported her idea completely. After the success of her live concert and the album recorded there at the Fillmore West, Atlantic was eager to have another live Aretha concert on record. Wexler arranged for Aretha to perform at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles.

Aretha was excited and nervous. There was still a lot of resistance to gospel singers who crossed over to sing pop, jazz, and R & B. After hearing Aretha sing at Mahalia Jackson's funeral, the gospel singer Sallie Martin said, “Worst thing I ever heard—a nightclub singer at a gospel singer's funeral.” Martin was not alone in her opinion. There were many African Americans who felt Aretha had no right to go back to singing gospel.

Aretha's musical support came from Reverend James Cleveland, his church choir and several musicians from Atlantic Records. The results were electric. The album, Amazing Grace, captured the energy of a live gospel performance. Throughout the recording the audience reacted with applause and singing, and they shouted “Amen!”

Aretha's father, Reverend Franklin, got up to speak to the congregation. “I was just about to bust wide open,” he said. “You talk about being moved. Not only because Aretha is my daughter, Aretha is just a stone singer … if you want to know the truth, she has never left the church.” Amazing Grace, the double album of Aretha's return to her musical roots, became the best-selling gospel album of all time!

Down but Never Out - Amazing Grace [next] [back] Down but Never Out - Love Again

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