Picks and Pans Review: Aretha Franklin: the Queen of Soul
(PBS: Check local listings)
One of America's great treasures is its rich heritage of pop singers. Wouldn't it be fun to have a series devoted to their lives and times, from Judy Garland to Patti Page to Frank Sinatra to Johnny Mathis? This thought occurs while watching this one-hour, American Masters salute to Aretha Franklin. This documentary traces Franklin's life, telling the story of her triumphs and tragedies through old TV clips, taped concerts, interviews with contemporary artists (including Keith Richards, Ray Charles and George Michaels) and probing interviews with the Queen herself. "She put the devil's words to gospel rhythms," explains record producer Jerry Wexler, by way of analyzing Franklin's extraordinary appeal. Sunshine. Rain. Sunshine. Rain. It's all there: scenes from Franklin's triumphant concert at San Francisco's Fillmore West in 1972; a clip of Franklin singing Precious Lord to Martin Luther King's family; concert footage of her crooning a phantasmagorical rendition of Harburg-Lane's Look to the Rainbow in memory of her father and musical mentor, the Rev. C.L. Franklin, who was shot during a robbery and lay in a coma for five years before dying. Even if you can't stand soul music, the show is worth watching just to observe Franklin's hairstyles over the years. Thanks, PBS, for the R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
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