The new episode of our podcast, Rolling Stone Music Now, is a tribute to the life and music of Aretha Franklin, starting with an interview with writer David Ritz, who co-wrote Franklin’s autobiography (Aretha: From These Roots) and also went on to write the unvarnished biography Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin. Ritz digs deep into Franklin’s formative years, explaining how her grief over separation from her mother helped shape her emotional make-up. He also explains the development of her musical style. “She was steeped in gospel,” Ritz says, “she was steeped in blues, she was steeped in jazz. And she could do them all at the same time.”
Ritz explained why Franklin’s first recording deal, with Columbia Records, failed to yield major hits. “Their first thought was to give her ‘mainstream’ material so she could have a ‘mainstream’ audience,” he says. “The irony is when she goes to Atlantic, Jerry Wexler uses non-mainstream material, and that’s what gets her an audience… It was just a moment in American history where that kind of music was hot, and America was hungry for it and she became the avatar of it.”
From there, we hear the audio of Patrick Doyle’s 2014 interview with Aretha, where she talks about some of her favorite songs, from Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me” to Pharrell’s “Happy,” as well as what a “charmer” Cooke could be: “It was thrilling for me — and every other woman — to be in the room with him.” She also explains how “Respect” came together in the studio, and explains why she’ll never get tired of singing it.
Plus, Doyle, David Browne and host Brian Hiatt discuss the behind-the-scenes story of Doyle’s interview (he was told to call her “Miss Franklin”), and some highlights of her career, including 1971’s spectacular Aretha Live at Fillmore West, featuring an insanely tight band led by saxophonist King Curtis.