The First Recordings
Reverend Franklin had connections in New York City who could help Aretha find a recording contract. One of those connections was bass player Major Holley. Holley agreed to help Aretha record a demo record. The demo included the songs “My Funny Valentine” and “Today I Sing the Blues.” Aretha's chaperone in New York was a woman named Jo King, who later became Aretha's first manager. Jo delivered Aretha's demo to John Hammond at Columbia Records.
John Hammond was a white record producer at Columbia who loved African American music. He signed the famous jazz singer Billie Holiday to her Columbia recording contract during the 1930s. John was very impressed with Aretha's demo, particularly “Today I Sing the Blues.” Aretha's recording of the song showcased her range and mature, soulful voice. It was hard for John to believe that the vocalist he was hearing was only eighteen years old! John arranged to meet Aretha, and he immediately signed her to a six-year recording contract with Columbia Records.