From the summer of 1960, when 18-year-old Aretha Franklin made her first Columbia recordings, until January 1967, when she cut her torrid Atlantic debut, "I Never Loved a Man (The Way That I Love You)," the Queen of Soul was royalty in waiting. Her many producers at Columbia (including John Hammond, who signed her to the label) tried hard to frame and wrangle Franklin's holy spirit, tortured heart and operatic force, mistaking her natural vocal power for a crossover gift — from the church to jazz, show tunes and pop covers — instead of a turning point. But the stirring can be heard all over these 11 CDs, cutting through the shimmer and the sweetening in the funky impatience of "Won't Be Long" from 1960, Franklin's poised-R&B command in 1964's "Runnin' Out of Fools," and "I'll Keep on Smiling," from the same year, co-written by the singer and an earthy preview of her Atlantic destiny. A DVD in this set has five TV clips from '64, including one of Franklin at the piano, doing Dinah Washington's 1944 hit "Evil Gal Blues." Franklin was not yet Lady Soul, but she looks and sounds ready for her close-up.
Listen to "Won't Be Long":