Like a lot of people, I expect, I first heard Aretha Franklin’s voice when I first heard the song Respect. And like a lot of people, I expect, the first hearing of that song was one of the important “holy shit” moments when you realize you are hearing something you’ve never heard before, and are witnessing greatness.
Aretha remained great over the years, and I got a kick out of her at many points along the way, including her raucous video of Pink Cadillac. But for the most part the classics like Respect, Chain of Fools and Natural Woman were the songs that played over and over in my mental jukebox.
An old friend sent me two videos of Aretha yesterday. They are extraordinary. I had not seen either before, and they are well worth your time if you are a fan.
They are in some ways a pair of bookends to her amazing career. In the first, from very early on, she and Ray Johnson sing Mockingbird. He is great; she is great. Then suddenly-bang! just like that–she gets even greater. She can’t contain her talent, her voice, her enthusiasm. A perfect performance of a perfect song for her at that moment, one that permitted her to combine her artistry with a kind of saucy innocence and charm.
The second is a 2015 performance for the Pope of Nessun Dorma. This is altogether a more sober piece, suitable for a career nearing its end. All I can say is Holy Mother of Jesus.