Aretha: A Mini-Multi-Ethnic History Lesson

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved

Aretha is/was international and global and pro-Black and pro-people of color long before those phrases became buzz words. But you already know Aretha. She’s part of the soundtrack of my/your life. If you were paying attention, you know about her activism, her once offering to pay Angela Davis’ bail; and the hurt in her voice at Martin Luther King, Jr.’s funeral.  My Dad was there. When he got home he said, “This is the only time I’ve ever heard Aretha sound so destroyed.”  But let’s consider the setting at Atlantic Records that nurtured her after her dad, the Reverend C. L. Franklin decided that Aretha’s voice was as secular as it was sacred; that her piano-playing was as inventive as anyone out there. I always, always wanted Aretha to make an instrumental album of nothing but her on piano, but I digress…

Ahmet Ertegün, our brother from Turkey, along with Jerry Wexler, founded Atlantic Records with the mission to produce some of the best Rhythm and Blues and Soul music ever. They succeeded. Not long after they made Ray Charles a household name, they signed Aretha Franklin, who reigned as Queen on a record label that had no shortage of music luminaries: Big Joe Turner, Ruth Brown, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, The Drifters, The Spinners, The Pointer Sisters, The Modern Jazz Quartet, Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young, Donny Hathaway, Roberta Flack, The Bee Gees, and the list goes on.  The early days for Aretha consisted of recording sessions with musicians, the majority of whom were young white men from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, a tiny town that still does not have 15,000 residents. The Black brothers in the band grew up with Rhythm and Blues, but these white musicians took a turn toward the Blues and Soul Music and never, ever looked back. These cats backing Aretha produced some of the most poignant, memorable, timeless, and soulful music in the twentieth century.

Beginning in the early 1960s, Arif Mardin served as Aretha’s principle producer for over two decades at Atlantic Records. Mardin, another musical genius from Istanbul, Turkey impressed the hell out of Dizzy Gillespie and Quincy Jones, so much so that after meeting these two Black American musical giants in 1956 after a State Department-sponsored concert, he became the first recipient of the Quincy Jones Scholarship at the Berklee School of Music in Boston. After Mardin graduated in 1961, he went to work for Atlantic Records. Aretha acknowledged him as the positive turning point in her career.  Together they churned out the hits all of us already know.  He produced that incredible gospel album “Amazing Grace” that everybody still talks about, and still plays.

So what is my point?  Well, the whole concept of globalization has always existed in music and the arts; and it, for damned sure existed with Aretha; and for people of color.  That multi-ethnic colored world that some white folks fear, the one that seems to be suddenly upon us has always been here.  You’ve been grooving to it, remember?  But know this: I don’t just know my people when I see them; I know them when and where I hear them. Marinate on that for a while. Rest in Paradise Queen of Soul, Aretha Louise Franklin.

Copyright © Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

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Guide My Feet…

by Leslye Joy Allen

“Guide My Feet”
(Traditional Negro Spiritual)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

I am grateful that my late Mama and Daddy taught me our old African tradition of ancestor worship.   That worship was as much a part of my childhood as was the old Western Judeo-Christian tradition…Now, for those who know me well, you know that I can be the most severe critic of ministers and organized religion(s) that too often fail to act in the best interests of the flocks they claim to serve, lead and protect.  Yet, that is another blog.  Save your breath.  I am only responding to the message(s) sent to me…

I occasionally re-read the poem that my friend actor-poet-writer Charles Reese wrote immediately following the death of my nearly 92-year-old mother in early 2013.  In homage to her, he referred to my Mama as “a Queen,” but he also referred to her as “our newest ancestor.” — Nothing in “Syble’s Poem” struck me as much as that line about her becoming an ancestor.  For people who know my late Mama, they know that certain songs remained in her repertoire right up to the very end of her days here on earth.

I do not need to recount the tragedies that have happened to Black folk in the last few weeks or even over the last year.  Yet, for the last couple of days I have been unable to get the old Negro Spiritual “Guide My Feet” out of my head.  Composed and sung in the caldron of American chattel slavery and passed down from generation-to-generation by my people, I have been singing it and humming it off-and-on for the last couple of months.  At first, I thought I was going crazy.  I must confess that I had a similar experience with “You Gotta to Move,” a Gospel/Blues song composed by Mississippi Fred McDowell.  A few months earlier in the year, I was singing “You Gotta Move” in an impromptu singing session that followed a gathering of my Sistahs that was a combination of good coffee, prayer, testimony, and truth-talking with each other at Dream Café…A few days after that meeting, I ran into a brother in a wheelchair who was singing the same song on a corner in downtown Atlanta.  That had to mean something, I thought…

When I went to my cousin Dexter’s graduation from Morehouse College this past May 2015, the class Valedictorian and Summa Cum Laude graduate Jerek Sharrod Brown burst into “Guide My Feet” before he began his inspirational and spellbinding Valedictory address.   His voice in song was an unexpected, but welcome and perfectly poetic pleasure.  I felt something inside of me shift and move when Brown sang and when he spoke.  I felt something shift again when my cousin Dexter’s name was called as a new graduate of Morehouse College. After all, I remembered when I first held him in my arms when he was still an infant…

Today I decided to see whether the lyrics to “Guide My Feet” would come up in a general search on Google.  It did.  Now, usually when something comes up in an internet search, I typically download it and then email it to myself just to make sure that I have a couple of copies of my research findings in two different places.  Yet, something strange and beautiful happened after I performed my usual ritual…

When I clicked the email button to send my Google search findings to myself, the email did not pull up my personal email address.  Instead, it opened my late Mama’s email address which was and remains a secondary email account affiliated with my own primary account…Sometimes the Creator knows that you need a little help.  Sometimes the ancestors are talking to you…

There are moments when no matter how bad things are or may seem, you simply do not worry and you no longer expend energy on people who do not work in your and your own people’s best interests.   I have reached that moment. More than we know or acknowledge, the ancestors speak to us in small but important ways if WE only listen, if WE only listen…So, Thank You Mama and Daddy and all the known and unknown ancestors and saints…Thank You Goddess…Thank You God…Peace and Blessings.  Àṣé…

Guide my Feet,

while I run this race.

Guide my Feet,

while I run this race.

Guide my feet,

while I run this race,

For I don’t want to run this race in vain.

 

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this blog or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.