Stéphane Parisius: When and how did Aretha Franklin come into your life?
Joey Denalan: Aretha Franklin came into my life through the “Amazing Grace” album that I found in my father’s record collection and pulled off the shelf. I was impressed by this cap: it was very middle, she was wearing a veiled robe. Then I put the log in. Before I could read, I was selecting records based on artwork, and I liked the artwork in that record. I taped the recording and was initially impressed – I wouldn’t say scared, but the vocal performance and vocal power were extraordinary. If I recalculate, I must be four or five years old.
Once you are able to read the name and understand the lyrics, have you remained a role model?
Certainly, still to this day. She is and still is the undefeated Queen of Soul. Her timing, her expressions, her piano playing, her performance, as well as the ease with which she delivered these truly complex melodies is untouched.
From gospel to pop icon
What role did you play in the development of soul music as a whole?
I think her role is very, very big because she became that character after hitting a lot of records and the hits haven’t come yet, but she broke through with the song “Respect”. It was just the sound of that time. She’s accomplished a lot: She came out of the evangelical church, made her way into the secular world, then made her way into the pop world, but she insisted on being a parallel political figure to the civil rights movement.
I find it fascinating that we know relatively little about early motherhood trauma. I think she first became an involuntary mother when she was twelve years old. I find it admirable the carelessness with which she handled this weight that she carried with her in public. Her Afro-American origins must have shocked her. I think she’s always kept that distance: if you look at her interviews, she’s always been so far away that she’s only allowed a few people into her circle.
Aretha Franklin – Respect (official music video)
If you could meet Aretha Franklin in a beer garden with such beautiful weather: what would you ask her first?
(laughs) For God’s sake, I’d like to ask her first if I could sit next to her! If she takes pity on me, I will ask her how she did it with the timing with which she sang. This is really impressive. She has full strength, vocal strength and presence, but she also has a lightness. As if none of that was a problem at all, what I did physically, even though it was a high performance sport.
Aretha Franklin championed absolute authenticity
Do you think such a number could exist again at any time given how the media landscape has changed?
She’s the singer of the century, that’s pretty clear. But there is a kind of equivalent: Take Mary J. Blige, the current queen of hip-hop and soul, for example. She is also one of those characters who have been around for nearly thirty years and have not lost any of their relevance. Especially with her current album “Good Morning Gorgeous”, she has impressed a lot of younger people. The magic that emanates from this region really comes from Aretha Franklin, because Mary J. Blige also represents absolute authenticity, pain, joy, and unfiltered emotional life.
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