The 50th anniversary of Aretha Franklin's arrival on the popular music scene is set for a major celebration in 2011. Signed to Columbia Records by the legendary John Hammond in the spring of 1960 (soon after her 18th birthday), Aretha released her debut album, Aretha (With The Ray Bryant Combo), on February 27, 1961. Her coming of age at Columbia as a young artist in New York is one of the great stories in the annals of popular music, and set the stage for her ascendance as the Queen of Soul at Atlantic Records.
Columbia/Legacy will also release Aretha Franklin: The Great American Songbook on March 22nd. This single-CD collection of evergreens composed by Billy Strayhorn, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin, Johnny Mercer and Hank Williams, among others, is drawn entirely from the repertoire of Take A Look. Liner notes were written by Anthony Heilbut, author of The Gospel Sound: Good News and Bad Times (Simon & Schuster, 1971).
The wide range of studio and live recordings that Aretha made for Columbia from the summer of 1960 to the fall of 1965 have been a source of controversy and heated critical debate for nearly a half-century. There is unanimous agreement, however, that Aretha's years at Columbia were a necessary step in her artistic evolution.
Aretha, who turns 69 on March 25th, still commands the oft-cited R word (for R-E-S-P-E-C-T). Her voice remains one of the glories in American music. She has won 18 Grammys; was the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987; has performed at two presidential inaugurations; and received a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 – the nation's highest honor. She was also recognized as "the greatest singer of the rock era,'" according to a Rolling Stone poll published in November 2008.
"The golden anniversary of Aretha's introduction to the pop world from her gospel beginning at Chess Records is a singular moment in America's musical, social and cultural heritage," says Adam Block, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Legacy Recordings. "Take A Look is a long-overdue tribute to an American icon."
Take A Look begins with expanded editions of Aretha's seven original Columbia albums:
• Aretha (with the Ray Bryant Combo) (released February 27, 1961)
• The Electrifying Aretha Franklin (1962)
• The Tender, the Moving, the Swinging Aretha Franklin (1962)
• Laughing On The Outside (1963)
• Unforgettable – A Tribute To Dinah Washington (1964)
• Runnin' Out Of Fools (1965)
• Yeah!!! In Person With Her Quartet (in two sequences: the original 1965 album recorded live in the studio with overdubbed applause, followed by a new previously unreleased version without the overdubbed ambience)
Two CDs reflect Aretha's collaborations with the influential producers Bobby Scott and Clyde Otis -- collaborations that were either shelved or issued as singles, but never on LP:
• Tiny Sparrow: The Bobby Scott Sessions (1963)
• Take A Look: The Clyde Otis Sessions (1964)
Two CDs are new compilations:
• A Bit of Soul (the full album as it was compiled in 1965, but never released)
• The Queen In Waiting (includes Aretha's last seven Columbia recordings which were produced by Bob Johnston, who was noted for his work during this time with Bob Dylan; the disk also features new recordings of Aretha's songs that Columbia "sweetened" after she left the label)
A bonus DVD, Aretha '64! Live on The Steve Allen Show, features Aretha singing and playing piano on the legendary comedian's television program, syndicated by Westinghouse TV, in the spring of 1964. The performances include "Lover Come Back to Me," "Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody," "Won't Be Long," "Skylark," and "Evil Gal Blues."
The lavish 64-page booklet was designed by Michael Boland for The Boland Design Company. It contains:
• A 3,700-word essay by Daphne A. Brooks, distinguished professor of English and African American Studies at Princeton University; author of Bodies in Dissent: Spectacular Performances of Race and Freedom, 1850-1910 (Duke University Press, 2006), Jeff Buckley's Grace (Continuum 33 1/3 series, 2005) and the forthcoming Subterranean Blues: Black Women and Sound Subcultures (Harvard University Press)
• An excerpt from John Hammond's 1977 autobiography, On Record, in which he reflects on the joy of discovering a singular talent, and the heartbreak of losing her to Atlantic Records
• Newly published photographs by Vernon L. Smith and the Columbia staff photographers Don Hunstein, Hank Parker and Sandy Speiser
• Complete discography of albums and singles
In every case, the CD jackets replicate the original LP jackets, including back cover liner notes. These include liner notes written by many of the most prominent music journalists of the day, including Frank Driggs (Aretha With the Ray Bryant Combo); Pete Welding (The Electrifying Aretha Franklin); Billy James (The Tender, The Moving, The Swinging Aretha Franklin); Leonard Feather (Unforgettable); and Dan Morgenstern (Yeah!!! In Person With Her Quartet).