Jully Black on how Aretha Franklin 'gave me hope'
Hearing the powerful voice of Aretha Franklin over the airwaves of 1980s pop radio left a permanent impression on Canadian singer Jully Black.
Hardly 8 years old at the time, Black remembers even at that age she recognized the rarity of a Black woman being played on a Top 40 radio station in Toronto.
“To hear a soulful voice come through gave me hope,” she says.
“Right here in Canada, I was hearing this voice that I knew wasn’t from here — but I knew I could do that too. As young as I was, that was the beginning.”
Franklin, who is synonymous with her title as the “Queen of Soul,” died on Thursday in Detroit from pancreatic cancer. She was 76.
“She leaned in, always. I believe she didn’t look at herself as ‘good for a woman.’ I think she just recognized that she was powerful,” Black told the Star’s Ben Rayner on Thursday. “And to know that she was able to sing at the funeral for Dr. Martin Luther King and then, 40-plus years later, sing at the inauguration of the first Black president (Barack Obama), that is longevity. That is endurance.”
Black says her sisters were loyal fans of Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 radio show where Franklin’s mid-1980s hits “Freeway of Love” and “Who’s Zoomin’ Who” would have made appearances.
Those songs encouraged her to learn more about Franklin’s roots as the daughter of a church pastor, which Black felt paralleled her own experience as the daughter of a deacon. She supposes they might have shared a few viewpoints on the music industry.
“There are times where we’ve had to pass up things because it didn’t align with our faith, with our integrity,” Black says.
“That’s where the church always stayed with me and I believe that’s where the church stayed with her.”
Over her career, Franklin proved a musical versatility that challenged definition.
While she forged an early career in Motown with hits like “Chain of Fools” and “Respect,” she was also a steadfast gospel singer who played piano on a whim. Her career’s many chapters included a pop resurgence in duets with 1980s figures like George Michael and Annie Lennox and being the first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Franklin held the seemingly universal admiration of her peers.
Celine Dion called sharing the stage with the vocal powerhouse on VH1’s 1998 Divas Live one of the greatest moments of her career.
“She was an unbelievable artist who inspired me and millions of others,” Dion posted Thursday on Facebook.
“She was the most soulful and inspirational singer of our time ... there will never be anyone like her.”
Dan Aykroyd, who spent time with Franklin on the set of both Blues Brothers movies, tweeted that he recalled “happy memories” of her.
“The Queen had a wry, skeptical eye on the world but once you got her laughing you were in,” he wrote.
“What a voice! What a soul.”
Her extensive music catalog also made Franklin’s songs frequent candidates for covers.
Toronto R&B singer Melanie Fiona says she performed 1971’s “Rock Steady” on tour years ago. She considered it a high point of the show, but attests that covering one of Franklin’s songs is never easy.
“It’s big shoes to fill,” she says.
“You’re kind of diving in with the sharks because if you mess it up ... your head’s on the chopping block. When you’re that great, like Aretha, you’ve got to do it justice.”
Fiona credits Franklin with inspiring her own career and those of her idols, such as Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston.
“As a singer I feel such a great sense of loss,” she says.
“That’s the mother of these voices.”