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Milestones

I’ve got a longer post waiting in the wings about my dear friend Dave Revels and his amazing Shadows Of The Sixties show that he brought to the Fur Peace Ranch last weekend. This post has been put on hold for a bit by the passing of Aretha Franklin.

I first became aware of Aretha in 1959 when my first roommate at Antioch College, Marshall Jones, turned me onto the sermons of the Rev. C.L.Franklin. As I recall, he was preaching somewhere in northern Kentucky and I purchased two LP’s of his sermons. The one I recall was ‘The Eagle Stirreth Her Nest.’ Marshall talked about Aretha’s singing in Rev. Franklin’s choir. Although not a Christian then or now, those sermons moved me in ways I could not really understand at the time.

When I first heard Aretha’s I Never Loved A Man The Way I Loved You I was unaware that it was her eleventh album. That recording enveloped me in its sound and Aretha Franklin and her music would forever be a part of my life. She was such a mature and breathtaking talent that it never occurred to me that she was younger than I was. When I became aware of her fragility earlier this week, it became crystal clear that the time of my generation is resting on a bubble. This is not a bad thing to be aware of and I thank Aretha for bringing it home to me.

She touched so many generations and we will all miss her presence on this earth. She never failed to bring beauty to the garden.

May she rest in everlasting peace…

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  1. Sandy
    August 17th, 2018 at 10:02 | #1

    “…never failed to bring beauty to the garden”. What a beautiful turn of phrase and reflection on existence.

  2. doug mlyn
    August 17th, 2018 at 10:04 | #2

    Both my wife and I love her music. She sure was a great talent and left us way too early. I once heard an interview where someone asked you what music or artists you had on your “Ipod.” You mentioned Aretha…

  3. Mitch Spector
    August 17th, 2018 at 10:10 | #3

    Amen ! R.I.P Aretha .Very nice Jorma !!

  4. Tom Fabry
    August 17th, 2018 at 10:27 | #4

    Winter Summer Spring or fall
    Got to go when the good Lord calls.
    So if there is a paradise, I am sure Sister Aretha, will have her chance to sing with the choirs of angels, however that might manifest.
    Glad she is out of her earthly suffering, and she had her share.
    Saw a Dead copy band last night dedicate “Franklin’s” Tower to her…
    She sang and professed much about Jesus Christ, her Jewish Boss, Brother and Savior.

  5. August 17th, 2018 at 10:58 | #5

    Thank you for your appreciation of Aretha.

  6. carey georgas
    August 17th, 2018 at 11:24 | #6

    My mom took me to see Stevie Wonder when I was 11, maybe 12 years old. He wasn’t that much older than me, and that show got me to paying attention to the Motown sound. Then I heard Aretha. That voice filled me with wonder (no pun intended) and no matter the musical genre I was into to as I matured, whenever I heard her voice I was moved in a way that seemed to touch my soul. My Merriam Webster traces the etymology of the word soulful to 1860. I venture to say that the definition was not fully realized until she began singing. She won’t be in the Angel Chorus, she’ll be leading it.

  7. Rich L
    August 17th, 2018 at 12:17 | #7

    I really liked the analogy of the eagle exposing the thorns in the nest. I’ve always thought that comfort an prosperity are an impediment to our walk … and as some ol” jazz pianist I once heard sing “It’s all about the walk..”

    I think most know that RESPECT was an Otis Redding song. It was written from the perspective of a man. Certainly, Aretha made it her own, and I’m sure none of us would dare change the radio station when that song comes on.

    Nothing will ever quite replace that explosion of sound known as Motown.

    sock it to me, sock it to me sock it to me!!!

  8. Paul
    August 17th, 2018 at 12:34 | #8

    She was so much an integral part of our soundscape. A national treasure to be sure.
    I remember driving along with Ian and others (you to I think) and listening to har and to her daddy, CL.
    She will be missed.

  9. Mitch Spector
    August 17th, 2018 at 13:22 | #9

    Just read about Marty Balin ..Really sad situation ..Prayers

  10. Susan
    August 17th, 2018 at 13:59 | #10

    Aretha’s performance of “You make me feel like a natural woman” at the Kennedy Center, in honor ofCarole King , brings me to tears. What a voice and presence!

  11. Bella
    August 17th, 2018 at 16:11 | #11

    How quickly time passes. It seems like a blink of an eye.

  12. LWE
    August 17th, 2018 at 21:15 | #12

    I seem to recall seeing or reading an interview in which you said you would love to hear her sing, “Turn My Life Down.” Trying to hear it in my mind.

  13. brian
    August 18th, 2018 at 07:45 | #13

    I say a little prayer…

  14. George Anthony
    August 18th, 2018 at 09:28 | #14

    R.I.P. Aretha.

    LWE, I’m paraphrasing, but I think it was WFUV Fordham University radio interview, from a few years ago… Hi Jorma, among the banter was a question posed: “Is there any ‘Jorma’ composition you wished was covered by another artist?” You graciously stated: ”Turn My Life Down” (from Volunteers LP) and you wished Aretha would cover it. Wow. So very nice to simply imagine that. Be well. See you in NY.

  15. August 18th, 2018 at 10:54 | #15

    My parents lived in Detroit in 1957 and 58. Mom recalled seeing Aretha singing jazz in the nightclubs there at that time. Later after John Hammond Sr. “discovered” her – he tried to turn her into a Nancy Wilson type performer. It took Aretha almost ten years to find who she was as a performer. I think Miles Davis once said “It takes a long time to sound like yourself.” My lasting memory of Aretha was her singing at MLK’s funeral on that hot day in April back in 1968. She managed to channel all the frustration, hope, sorrow and fear of that time into one performance. Her dad and MLK were old friends. RIP to the Queen.

  16. johno
    August 18th, 2018 at 12:14 | #16

    Just read about Marty Balin in the newspaper. He needs our thoughts and prayers. Last time I saw him was at the Beacon a couple years ago. He came out in a 3 piece suit and did a rousing 20 minute rendition of “Volunteers”. He was really into it.
    @Mitch Spector

  17. richu
    August 18th, 2018 at 23:49 | #17

    @johno
    He may not be able to rous for a while…lets wait and see what his bro jorma reports….

  18. August 19th, 2018 at 11:19 | #18

    Would love to hear Aretha perform Turn my life down.
    Fantasy is our vehicle, it would have been nice if Cap could have provided the soaring guitar break.
    The same week of the Fordham interview ,I believe was the same week that HT did a cultural counterpoint to the commemoration of the lunar landing at the auspicious EXPLORERS CLUB.
    If you’ve not been , you should go
    Cool Tudor , upper east side.
    I’d like to see HT , perform that song, you could throw in In Time , and If you feel as well.
    Busy week & than off to Arrington for Lockin
    Keep Truckin on

  19. Brian Doyle
    August 19th, 2018 at 12:51 | #19

    It’s hard to put to words how the Blues Brothers could combine respect for the soul R&B art form and comedy but they did…Aretha was wordly enough to not only go along with it but do proper to it with her performance in the ‘Blues Brothers’ movie…I guess Aykroyd and Belushi pulled it off because they managed to present the exposure to the black community and its culture that came during the time through music and both groups took advantage of the cultural access through that medium…Aretha’s part was the tradition of the band’s call vs a woman’s need to hang on to her man – probably a very real thing to some people and the Blues Brothers were playing with live ammo…

  20. mikie
    August 20th, 2018 at 09:20 | #20

    I bought Aretha’s Live at the Fillmore album after reading a review of it in, I think, Guitar Player. I got hooked then. She made even Top 40 radio a pleasure to listen to when they played her songs.
    I’d not heard abt Mr. Balin, must do some googling. I was absolutely blown away by his performance a The Station a few years back; what an amazing band he had, too. God’s blessings on him. m

  21. George Dunn
    August 20th, 2018 at 10:43 | #21

    Deut 32 was the extension of the Law, the Shema given “that day.” All Jews know this Law
    as their own First Command, and so then, what nest was stirred in the ’60’s?

    Vietnam. Civil War stirred Americans, WWI and WWII. Korean War, all stirrings and the last two with world annihilation possible (weapons of mass destruction).

    Now the 60’s generation stirred, most personally and intimately with the Vietnam War.

    46 And he said unto them, Set your hearts unto all the words which I testify among you this day, which ye shall command your children to observe to do, all the words of this law.

    “This Law” was the Shema given Deut 6:4.

    What is the light seen by the “prophets” in Hot Tuna? When Jorma sings “I see the light,” what is he saying? What “light” is this?

    Deut 30 provides this answer.

    6 And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.

    This light is the Holy Spirit dispensed unto the Remnant of YHWH.

    Some see this light in part, and some see it more clearly. It is as primitive and ancient as the drum beats in that song. Every word in the lyrics speaks of this same thing.

    What was this sermon about, given way back in ‘53? Same dealybobber, folks.

  22. Mitch Spector
    August 20th, 2018 at 13:33 | #22

    @johno
    Thank you Johno. See you in Scottsdale ..Peace

  23. August 21st, 2018 at 15:56 | #23

    Well said, Jorma.

    Thanks

  24. August 22nd, 2018 at 11:53 | #24

    “The Eagle Stirrith Her Nest” is arguably the most demanding sermon in the African
    American Baptist tradition. To deliver it required a maturity of thought and faith,
    coupled with a superior musical delivery, so much so that most preachers who did
    attempt it waited until they were well advanced in their ministry. C. L. Franklin first
    delivered the sermon at age 26.
    The earliest written commentary on the sermon came from Sir Charles Lyell, a British
    traveler to America. On January 10, 1846, Lyell attended the First African Church in
    Savannah, Georgia, and wrote his impressions of Reverend Andrew Marshall’s sermon
    before some 600 parishioners. Lyell described the preacher as “a Negro of pure African
    blood…with a fine sonorous voice” who delivered the sermon “without notes, in good
    style.” Of the sermon’s structure, Lyell was more precise. The preacher spoke of human
    frailty and the need for divine grace, and compared the relationship between God and
    humanity “to an eagle teaching her newly fledged offspring to fly”: she takes her
    offspring up high, drops it and, if it flails about, swoops down to save it. In a similar
    fashion, Lyell explained, the preacher exclaimed that God watches over frail humanity
    and issues rewards and punishments that deal impartially with “the poor and the rich, the
    black man and the white.”
    A century later, the sermon had evolved into one of the most complex ritual expressions
    in the black Baptist tradition. In 1942, C. L. Franklin, then pastor of New Salem Baptist
    Church in Memphis but three years removed from the Mississippi Delta, first preached it.
    Ernest Donelson, a church member at the time and himself a gospel singer, recalled that
    when his pastor announced he would preach the sermon again, the crowd for that 11:00
    A.M. service grew far larger. This young preacher already touched congregants with a
    power matched only by a relative few of the more tested, experienced preachers.
    There was no recording made of any of those New Salem sermons, nor of the sermons
    Franklin delivered at Friendship Baptist Church in Buffalo, New York, where he
    relocated in 1944, nor in the first years of his ministry at Detroit’s New Bethel Baptist
    after 1946. But in 1953, Joe Von Battle, a Detroit record store owner and record
    producer, recorded Franklin live, at New Bethel, delivering “The Eagle Stirrith Her
    Nest.”
    Franklin began with his signature gospel selection, “Father, I Stretch My Hand To Thee,”
    rhythmically chanting, with the choir and congregation, the message of humanity’s
    dependence upon God: “Where shall I go,” he beseeched, “if you withdraw from me?”
    But God would not leave his people bereft, and with that Franklin moved to the sermon
    proper. His text was from the Book of Deuteronomy of the Hebrew Bible, Chapter 32:
    11-12, which describes God’s providence over Jacob: “As an eagle stirrith up her
    nest…spredeth broad her wings” to protect her young, “so the Lord alone did lead him,
    and there was no strange god with him.”
    In narrative voice, Franklin then explores the history of the text, emphasizing that when
    the Jews entered their Babylonian captivity they did not forsake their God for false idols.
    Rather, they blamed their fate on themselves, on their sins. At this early moment and still
    in narrative voice, Franklin reached out to the congregation for more engagement: “I
    don’t believe you’re going to pray with me tonight.” He continued: The eagle
    personified God, and the nest, history; “Yahweh has done that in history for Israel,” as he
    will for all of His people. The eagle is a regal bird, he explained, as God is the King, the
    ultimate judge. This is just for “Kings and rulers need to be accountable to somebody.”
    The eagle’s handling of her young provides another lesson. When the time arrives, the
    eagle takes her young upon her back out of the nest and then dives sharply down, leaving
    them learning to fly, only to swoop down to protect them if needed. “God does us like
    that sometimes” when we are in too “comfortable a nest of circumstances.” Throughout
    this section, Franklin increases the rhythmic pace of his words, and called out to the
    congregation repeatedly for a more intense response.
    By this point, he began to “whoop,” to deliver his message with an intensified rhythmic
    power, transforming the sermon from its narrative beginning into a sacred performance of
    the Word with roots deep in the African American slave experience. While the preacher
    had a major role in the timing and development of the sermon, the essence of the
    whooped sermon was the joining of the preacher to the congregation into a single voice
    of praise of, and petition to, their God.
    “Is God still stirring the nest,” he chanted with ever greater intensity. Yes, he
    proclaimed, even “when we came as slaves to this country.” That was a long, hard time
    for us, but “400 years is just a little while with God.” His great-grandparents were slaves,
    he reminded the congregation of their shared experience, and look where “their greatgrandson
    is today.” In suffering, he chanted, is redemption, for “to be ourselves we have
    to suffer.” But as his great-grandparents’ suffering benefitted his generation, so will
    today’s suffering aid generations to come. Suffering is not passive acceptance, but God’s
    spur to learn to fly. At this point Franklin was in full whoop, walking the platform away
    from the mic, raising his pitch and his cadence, drawing from the congregation a response
    that sealed the sacredness of the moment: Pastor and congregation, in pace with each
    other, affirm that their God is indeed “stirring the nest” for them and their people at this
    moment.
    The organist offers a few bars, and Franklin reaffirms the central message: that in every
    storm of life, God is stirring up history, as the cries, whoops, and exclamations of the
    congregation slowly subside. A faith is affirmed and, through that process, a
    congregation recommits itself to transforming the world as found.
    Nick Salvatore teaches history at Cornell University. He is the author of “Eugene V.
    Debs: Citizen and Socialist” (1982), “We All Got History: The Memory Books of Amos
    Webber” (1996); and “Singing In A Strange Land: C. L. Franklin, the Black Church,
    and the Transformation of America” (2005).