Child of the Gospel
Influenced By The Best
During her childhood, Aretha was exposed to some of the greatest gospel singers of the time. Many of them were friends of her father's. Aretha was well acquainted with Mahalia Jackson, Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers, and Clara Ward and the Ward Singers. Many of these performers were experiencing “crossover” success. Jackson and Ward were successfully introducing white audiences to the power of gospel music. Cooke would soon have enormous success singing popular music.
Aretha's own style as a child was most influenced by Clara Ward, whose dramatic performances were legendary. The Ward Singers were famous for their theatrical style. Rather than wear choir robes, which were common costumes for gospel singers, the Ward Singers performed in eye-catching dresses and elaborate wigs. Clara Ward was an excellent piano player and an equally good singer who was best known for her upbeat versions of “How I Got Over” and “The ld Landmark.” There is little doubt that Ward's flair made an mpression on young Aretha, who later performed in some outrageous outfits herself!
Ward deeply loved young Aretha, and Aretha looked up to her as a role model. Ward once wrote of Aretha, “My baby Aretha doesn't know how good she is. Doubts self. Some day—to the moon! I love that girl.”
Aretha had a huge crush on Sam Cooke—as did many thousands of young women. Cooke was a well-known gospel singer with his group, the Soul Stirrers. After leaving the Soul Stirrers, Cooke began a successful solo career in pop music. His song “You Send Me” was a huge hit with both white and black audiences.
Like many young singers, Aretha tried imitating the styles and sounds that appealed to her. She imitated the flair of Clara Ward and the smooth vocals of Sam Cooke so well that Reverend Franklin told Aretha to focus more on expressing herself. She took her father's advice, which paid off in a big way!