Last month the great Aretha Louise Franklin passed away. Every since then I have been down a YouTube rabbit hole of her performances and interviews. In doing that I also decided I wanted to read about her life first her telling her own story in the autobiography Aretha: From These Roots and then book that is said to be the definitive Aretha Franklin biography written by David Ritz Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin.
In her autobiography Aretha basically just took the reader on ride through her career touching on a few incidents with other artist but always making her self out to be the victim. She touched on a few of her personal relationships but all but skimped over her marriage to Ted White and made her marriage to Glenn Thurman sound like a fairy tale. Aretha was very upset about the stories that had been told about her mother abandoning the family and wanted set the record straight. She painted a picture of childhood bliss going between both parents until her months death. I don’t doubt that she visited her mother but having mother leave and suddenly die as child is what Aretha stated “that it was pain she could not describe and wouldn’t even try”. Later in the book when speaking about Natalie Cole she states that hearing Natalie discuss her fathers death made it easier later for her to talk about her father. I believe Aretha was of the black old school adage that what happens at home stays and family business isn’t to be discussed with others. I don’t fault Aretha for being scared to truly open about her loses, but she would have probably benefited from therapy.
Mr. Ritz was able to take a deeper dive into Aretha’s life good and bad. He interviewed her sibling, other family members and people who have worked with Aretha professionally. Ruth Bowen is probably the closest non-family member in the book and her takes on Ms Aretha were interesting. One topic that is discussed through out both books are Aretha’s stage shows. Aretha speaks on them as if they are just beautiful and well put together because she does them. While in Mr. Ritz books everyone says that her shows border on tacky and her song selections most of the times are a miss. Another thing that is touched towards the end of Respect is Aretha’s later song selections. Many felt they were beneath her but also a lot of people were depending Aretha financially. When you are the person responsible for taking care of your family and your money management are lacking you are going to have to keep working well past the time you probably should. So I think based off the books and also clips I have seen I do believe Aretha truly enjoyed performing and making music but it was also a necessary for her too. The stories told my her family and other artist who worked with Aretha describe how talented she was on the piano. One time her arm was broken and she was able to come into the studio and play beautifully. We didn’t see much of her playing the piano in the 80’s and 90’s but she went back to that in her later concerts.
The last thing I want to touch on is Ms. Aretha’s mystery man. Her autobiography she touches on a mystery man she was interested in interwoven between her long term relationship and marriage. Ms. Bowen had me crying laughing talking about the matter. Everyone in Mr. Ritz’s book says that there was no mystery man and Aretha liked to make up stories because she desired to be loved and wanted. I say if you don’t know much about Ms. Franklin and want to know more then definitely give these books a read. I don’t think Aretha is a great autobiography/memoir but it is a great companion to Respect. Neither book is a hard read I finished both books in a week and half. There is a lot I have left out this review because I feel people should read the books and shape their own opinion of the phenomenal Aretha Louise Franklin.
Have read either of these books if so what was your opinion? Would you recommend them?