Aretha Franklin, great American singer, songwriter and pianist, passed away on August 16th. As a tribute, New Directions In Music takes a look at her landmark 1972 recording Young, Gifted and Black and Ms. Franklin’s place in the movement for black equality in America.
Aretha Franklin had already had a long career by 1972. She had recorded a number of records for Columbia Records in styles that were largely jazz and cabaret singer settings, with only smatterings of R&B and soul, with tepid results. Her move to Atlantic Records put her into the orbit of Jerry Wexler, Arif Martin, and Tom Down and Aretha’s subsequent Atlantic releases were largely R&B and soul affairs with pop covers and the occasional look back at an earlier style
Former John Coltrane producer and Impulse! Records A&R man Bob Thiele founded the Flying Dutchman record label with the express intention of producing a line of jazz-based records that would sell and be played on the radio. He also recorded a lot of favorite jazz artists, including a great many leading avant-garde players (Ornette Coleman, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp) and others (Oliver Nelson, Bud Freeman) who found themselves without recording contracts. In 1971 the label was acquired by Atco, a subsidiary of Atlantic Records.
Wattstax was the largest gathering of African-Americans in one place since the civil rights March on Washington in 1963. The 1965 Watts riots had provided a glimpse of what was to happen in major cities across America in the latter half of the decade. Wattstax was an attempt at demonstrating positive ways the community could move forward.