4 Stars – Inspirational
There is no voice in our lifetime that matches the capacity of Aretha Franklin to both inspire the human soul and create joy in the expressions of our human condition. By the time Aretha was 29 years old, she had achieved eleven #1 hits that shaped the culture of America, from “Think” to “RESPECT”. When she died this past year, it was a great loss of a legend in our midst.
Her voice was a gift from God and she came by it from a God-inspired legacy. Her father was a nationally known pastor, the Rev. C.L. Franklin who was said to have a “million-dollar voice” and was friends with numerous luminaries of the civil rights movement and the gospel music circuit. It was not unusual to have the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King or gospel-great Clara Ward singing in their home. Aretha was raised surrounded by a choir of angels. She also had some pretty good help from her Detroit neighborhood where she hung out with Smokey Robinson and other Motown greats who were getting their own training in the same black church choirs.
In 1972, Aretha decided that she wanted to go back to her roots and make an album of gospel music that was at the core of who she was as a singer. Filmed in the Watts section of Los Angeles at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church, she sang for two nights in a way that is almost unmatched in gospel history. The church was filled with community members, including her father who flew out from Detroit. What we witness is pure joy, and the recording went on to be the best-selling gospel album of all time.
Warner Bros. decided to film the recording session, but for a variety of reasons the film was never completed until it was developed into a documentary this past year. While the quality of the filming is weak, the content is not. It is remarkable to see all of the elements of the blending together of a phenomenal singer with the talents of great musicians and the Los Angeles Community Choir comprised of local church singers. This gives you a front row seat into the dynamics that builds the “gospel music sound” that is so unique, and is the mainstay of the faithful Christians in the black churches in America.
Amazing Grace – how sweet the sound! When Aretha breaks into “What a Friend We Have In Jesus”, the quality of her performance matched with the extraordinary soulful sound of the surrounding choir, makes the hairs on your neck stand up, and you want to leap to your feet to join in the chorus!
This is gospel heaven, and a trip to church you don’t want to miss!
1. It has been said that music is food for the soul. Do you find this to be true for you?
2. The power of Gospel Music is found in both its sorrow and its joy. Like the Psalms the blend is a powerful reminder both about life and about God. How did you experience the music of the film? What moved you the most?
3. The daughter of a famous Christian Pastor, Aretha returned to her roots to create the album upon which this documentary is based. How are you being impacted by your own roots – both positively and negatively?