Archive for female artists

5 deeper insights into Aretha Franklin’s legacy

Posted in Female Vocalists, Uncategorized with tags , , , on August 16, 2018 by Ain't No Other Tan

In the erm, touching words of Donald Trump, “The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, is dead”. On hearing just a few days ago that she was “gravelly ill”, many knew that her passing was inevitable. However, the fact that she died on the same day as Queen of Pop Madonna’s 60th birthday and the same day the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll Elvis Presley did in 1977, is both a fitting and slightly spooky coincidence.

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Of course, everyone is familiar with the vocal prowess Aretha possessed and the accomplishments she obtained over the decades in her career. But here are 5 deeper insights into her legacy that some may not be as knowledgeable about.

5) She was a brilliant pianist

For most singers, it’s not just enough to be able to sing, but the ability to play an instrument as well, adds to your credibility as an artist and musician. Aretha often played the piano in the studio or on the stage whilst singing, and did so very adeptly. When playing she was able to control the music, her band and her backing singers and therefore able to improvise and ad lib how she saw fit. And when playing she wasn’t just tinkling out basic tunes, but bashing out full-on structured songs.

4) She was a great songwriter

While a handful of Aretha’s biggest hits were covers of other artists’ songs, such as Respect (Otis Redding), I Say a Little Prayer (Dionne Warwick), Son of a Preacher Man (Dusty Springfield), Don’t Play That Song (Ben E. King), You’re All I Need to Get By (Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell), Bridge Over Troubled Water (Simon & Garfunkel) and A Deeper Love (C+C Music Factory) – and many others were written for her – Aretha was no stranger nor amateur when it came to writing her own material. (Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone, Think, Call Me, Spirit in the Dark, Rock Steady, Day Dreaming, and Who’s Zoomin’ Who, are some of her most well-known songs that she wrote or co-wrote. She also had a hand in writing a number of album tracks over the course of her career. This was a rare talent to not only possess but showcase, particularly during the 50s, 60s and 70s, when most female singers didn’t write their own songs and nor did many play their own instruments as well.

3) She was a versatile musician

Although her musical and vocal style was obviously heavily rooted in gospel and old school soul, she was very versatile when it came to employing or fusing different genres together. She would still maintain a grounding in gospel and soul when delving into other genres, but showed she was a well-rounded musician and could nail pretty much any style she wanted. These include jazz, blues, funk, rock, disco, R&B, pop, country and even classical – as evident by her impromptu but acclaimed version of Nessun Dorma at the 1988 Grammys. This in turned inspired and gained admiration from countless artists from different genres, far beyond simply other soul, gospel and R&B singers, and is also what set her apart from some of her contemporaries.

2) She had an inimitable and rare voice type

Aretha was one of few singers whose voice types are hard to pinpoint. The darkness and weight of her voice as well as the most comfortable part of her range pointed to her being a mezzo-soprano, but she had the ease and ability to sing like a soprano or at least into the usual range of a soprano – with some believing her to be a “falcon soprano”, a rare hybrid voice that sat between the dramatic soprano and lyric mezzo. Others have said she was a dramatic mezzo (similar to a falcon) or a coloratura mezzo, due to her agility. Either way, she had a voice and abilities that were hard to match and made her unique; she was able to keep it restrained and sit in the lower reaches of her range similar to Dinah Washington and Gladys Knight or battle it out in the upper reaches with the likes of Patti Labelle and Chaka Khan.

1)She had vocal abilities that were seemingly limitless

Her rich low notes could rival those of contraltos and tenors or even baritones, her wide belting range had great grit, elasticity and power, her head voice was full, bright and piercing, and her breath control and stamina in her earlier years were impressive. And to top it off, her use of melisma was both groundbreaking and jaw-dropping. Her voice had flexibility in every area, octave and register – she was able to: execute fast, complex and accurate riffs, runs and trills that serviced the music whilst staying in key and keeping to the tempo; switch seamlessly between different registers; glide effortlessly up and down scales in one swift breath; and play around with dynamics. She not only helped popularise the use of melisma in modern-day music long before Whitney and Mariah did and took it to new heights in the 80s and 90s, but her note-bending, gospel growls, sustained belts and lyrical phrasing wrought with emotions on every note and word, set a standard for all big-voiced vocalists that followed her.