Michigan State Fair
It's not provincial at all to say that Aretha Franklin is one of the greatest female vocalists ever to grace a stage or recording studio -she is known as the Queen of Soul all over the world, and those shimmering notes first practiced in father CL. Franklin's New Bethel Baptist Church have probably raised more "goose bumps" since "Respect" than fear of the atom bomb. When Aretha is at the top of her form her voice has the power of John Coltrane's horn or Earth, Wind & Fire's rhythm section.
The main music attractions at the Michigan State Fair are, fortunately, relegated each year to an area which doubles as a stockcar racing track- "The Grandstand,' known for ts wind-swept dust and dirt, hard concrete, and equally hard bleacher seats.
But all the discomfort was quickly forgotten when Ms. Franklin's big, tight band swung into her intro after Butterball Jr.'s classic greeting, and Aretha's voice suddenly came from out of nowhere.
Singing on mike but hidden from view, Aretha took all the excitement caused by her hit record currently on the radio ("Something He Can Feel") and this infrequent hometown appearance (she only gives one or two concerts a year in the Detroit area) and raised it to a fever pitch.
The fans finally got their release when she strutted out front at last, the aptly-named Prima Donnas close behind, singing her funky trademark, "Respect." The title tune from her current Lp, Sparkle, followed and, sitting in center stage, Aretha delivered a touching "The Way We Were" as good as you'll ever hear it.
"Soul Medley 76" (as she put it) came next, creating new life for David Ruffin's "Walk Away From Love," a Barry White standard, and the Staple Singers' "Do It Again." Throughout her set she created surges of ecstasy simply by waving to a friend or fan, or dancing across the stage in her own sexy-but-dignified way, building into the current crowd favorite, "Something He Can Feel," and the closer, "Rock With Me."
The need for an encore quickly became obvious as the ecstatic, well-integrated crowd roared its approval, and "Sister Re" treated us with her own piano playing this time, mashing out a rollicking "Mr. DJ" at the concert grand. As the band behind her rocked on through to the tune's closing chorus, Aretha joined the Prima Donnas (Pam Vincent, Margaret Branch, and Brenda Bryant) at stage front for some hard soul shouting.
The stiff breeze which blew across the stage all night must have robbed Ms. Franklin of her wind, because she clutched her side just as the song was nearing ts orgiastic conclusion, the victim of what we heard later was some kind of "singer's cramp." Beating a hasty retreat backstage, Aretha returned to take a reassuring bow, and the folks boomed their appreciation.
Despite the concert's awkward setting and the little surprise at the finish, this return of Aretha Franklin was another special, satisfying experience for each and every one of us who were there, particularly since she shared a secret with us before leaving - she'll soon be starring in her first film, playing the legendary Bessie Smith. Best of luck, Re, in that and everythine else you do!