Aretha: Still the Queen of Soul

At 73 years of age, Aretha Franklin brought a tear to the eye of President Barack Obama and had composer Carole King in near meltdown performing “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman” in Washington recently.

Aretha was performing at the 38th Annual Kennedy Center Honors, held on December 6th in Washington and broadcast on CBS on Tuesday, Dec. 28. As of last night, the performance posted on YouTube had over 7 million views and earned notices round the world, including one British newspaper describing it as more than the performance of the year; “it’s the performance of the millennium. Long live the Queen.”

There is no question the American singer turned in a show-stopping performance, more remarkable given her age. Aretha was the first to record this by now familiar song, written for her by New York songwriter Gerry Goffin with his then wife Carole (Klein) King. According to a popular and persistent story, record producer Jerry Wexler was passing by the Brill building in NYC when he spotted Goffin and yelled out to him on the street, 'Why don't you write a song called 'Natural Woman'?'

Wexler needed a hit for Aretha’s third album for Atlantic Records, and Goffin thought the title unique enough he gave Wexler a writing credit on the song—a gift that would bring the record producer great wealth in subsequent years. Aretha recorded the song with the Muscle Shoals rhythm section and harmonies courtesy of the Sweet Inspirations (who included two of Aretha’s sisters: Erma and Carolyn). Arif Mardin wrote the horn arrangement. Wexler produced the session and a youthful Tom Dowd was the engineer and the result was included on the album that would be released as Lady Soul in 1968.  She was 25 when she first recorded this song and it would become a worldwide hit. Carole King was to record her own version of this song on her Tapestry album in 1971.

During his career Goffin penned over 114 Billboard Hot 100 hits, including eight chart-toppers, and 72 UK Singles Chart UK hits. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, with Carole King. He died in 2014 at age 75.

King has made 25 solo albums, the most successful being Tapestry, which held the record for most weeks at No. 1 by a female artist for more than 20 years. She has won four Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for her songwriting. She is the recipient of the 2013 Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, the first woman to be so honored. She is also a 2015 Kennedy Center Honoree, the very same ceremony that returned Lady Soul to the stage to sing that most famous song.

Below, Aretha performing “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman” at age 25 and the performance last week that brought a tear to the president’s eye.

 

 

 

 

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