Thursday, August 16, 2018

Aretha Franklin (1942 - 2018)

Aretha Franklin, the great singer, songwriter, and pianist, has died of cancer at age 76.

When Rolling Stone ranked Aretha Franklin #1 on its list of the 100 greatest singers of all time in 2010, Mary J. Blige wrote this:

Aretha has everything — the power, the technique. She is honest with everything she says.… And she has total confidence; she does not waver at all. I think her gospel base brings that confidence, because in gospel they do not play around — they're all about chops, who has the vocal runs. This is no game to her. . . .

Even the way she pronounces words is amazing: In "Giving Him Something He Can Feel," when she sings, "Many say that I'm too young" — the way she says "I'm," you can almost see her saying it, like she's all in your face, but you're still right with her. You can really visualize her hands when she sings, "You're tying both of my hands," on "Ain't No Way" — it's the powerful way she hits the word "both."

When you watch her work, you can see why Aretha is who she is. When we did the song "Don't Waste Your Time" on my album Mary, she just went in there and ate that record like Pac-Man. She could be doing a church vocal run, and it would turn into some jazz-space thing, something I never encountered before. You'd say, "Where did that come from? Where did she find that note?"
Last year I posted this on Facebook:
50 years ago today, in 1967, Aretha Franklin released her 11th studio album, I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, when she was just 24. It's best known for "Respect," but I recommend the whole album — amazing intensity. . . .
In January I posted:
50 years ago today, in 1968, Aretha Franklin released her 14th album, Lady Soul. The first single from the album was "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman." . . . Few recordings are as emotionally powerful as this one is in less than 3 minutes.

It's weird to think of Aretha Franklin as being underrated in any way since her singing has been so fully appreciated, but she doesn't get enough credit as a pianist. She played piano on many though not all of her recordings, including the iconic intro to "Think." Here she is playing piano and singing at age 22 in 1964:




She was still remarkably inventive as recently as 2016 with her improvisatory style of singing and piano playing in a version of the national anthem that stretched over 4 minutes:




A full concert from 1971, which starts with "Respect":




Here's her set at President Obama's White House in 2015:




Lastly, this 1986 concert includes great performances of "I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You" (after 9:00) and "Natural Woman" (19:50):




Elton John has written a wonderful tribute (starting with this tweet):
The loss of @ArethaFranklin is a blow for everybody who loves real music: Music from the heart, the soul and the Church. Her voice was unique, her piano playing underrated – she was one of my favourite pianists.

I was fortunate enough to spend time with her and witness her last performance – a benefit for [the Elton John AIDS Foundation] at St John The Divine Cathedral. She was obviously unwell, and I wasn’t sure she could perform. But Aretha did and she raised the roof. She sang and played magnificently, and we all wept. We were witnessing the greatest soul artist of all time.

I adored her and worshipped her talent. . . . We shared the same birthday – and that meant so much to me. The whole world will miss her but will always rejoice in her remarkable legacy. The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen.

"I sing to people about what matters. I sing to the realists — people who accept it like it is. I express problems. There are tears when it's sad and smiles when it's happy. It seems simple to me, but to some, feelings take courage." — Aretha Franklin

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Gov. Cuomo on America: "It was never that great"

The Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, has caused an uproar by saying:

We’re not going to make America great again. It was never that great. We have not reached greatness.
Now, I can respect Americans who say that kind of thing. I thought it was fine when a Home Depot employee wore a cap that said “America was never great” in the store in 2016. If that’s how individual citizens want to express their conflicted feelings about America, more power to ‘em. Whether you agree or disagree with the sentiment, the fact that people feel so free to criticize America is one of the things that makes America great!

But most Americans don’t want to hear this kind of grim talk from their leaders. I already didn’t think Andrew Cuomo (my governor) had strong presidential prospects, and this won’t help.

UPDATE: Cynthia Nixon, Cuomo's Democratic primary challenger, responds:
I think this is just another example of Andrew Cuomo trying to figure out what a progressive sounds like . . .