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ARETHA FRANKLIN has celebrated more than 20 years as a recording artist. More than half of those years were spent at Arista, where she was signed in 1980 by Clive Davis, Arista founder, BMG U.S. Chairman & CEO, and executive producer of many of her albums.
As a member of contemporary music’s royal family, Aretha is peerless, the undisputed, reigning “Queen Of Soul.” Seventeen-time Grammy winner (second highest of any woman in history), Grammy Living Legend and Lifetime Achievement Award honoree, the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and 2005 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom (America’s highest honor) – her roll call of awards and accolades is endless. In February 2008, Franklin was honored by MusiCares – a charity of the Recording Academy – as its 2008 Person of the Year in a gala tribute held in Los Angeles two nights before the 50th Grammy Awards. In January 2009 she sang “God Bless America” at the inauguration of President Barack Obama.
Known around the world by her first name, Aretha has achieved global recognition on an unprecedented scale. She has influenced generations of singers, from Janis Joplin and Chaka Khan, to Natalie Cole and Mary J. Blige, to American Idol winners Fantasia Barrino and Oscar-winning Jennifer Hudson. Aretha’s ever-distinctive, soulful, to-the-bone vocal style has graced the music charts for nearly five decades. While her live performances have touched the hearts of tens of millions since she began her musical journey as a gospel-singing child prodigy, it is her rich legacy of recordings that are a testament to the power, majesty, and genius of this one-of-a-kind artist of the first order.
Dozens of chart-topping records established Aretha as a cultural icon, with an astonishing eight consecutive Grammys for Best R&B Vocal Female between 1967 and 1974 – a record that most likely will stand forever. Included in her litany of timeless classics are “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” “Respect,” “Baby I Love You,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” “Chain of Fools,” “Think,” “Don’t Play that Song,” “Day Dreaming,” “Jump to It,” “Get It Right,” “Freeway of Love,” “A Rose Is Still a Rose,” and literally dozens of others from a list of more than 100 singles that have made the charts.
Included on that list of singles – and her 50-plus original studio and live albums – are an extraordinary number of duets and collaborations, especially during Aretha’s Arista years, when Clive Davis regularly paired her with the greatest names of all time. Some of those were artists whose careers paralleled Aretha’s, while others, notably in the ’90s and ’00s, were younger artists influenced by her, who dreamed all their lives of recording with their mentor. In honor of Aretha’s all-time status as one of the label’s first ladies of song, Jewels In The Crown: All-Star Duets With The Queen (2007) collected a stellar cross-section of 16 selections.
The tracks span virtually the entirety of her Arista years, from 1981’s “Love All the Hurt Away,” an exquisite duet with singer-guitarist George Benson, all the way to unreleased 2007 recordings of two new duets: “Put You Up on Game” with (then) 23-year-old Fantasia (co-written and co-produced by the Underdogs) and “What Y’All Came to Do” with 28-year-old John Legend, produced and co-written by Kanye West collaborator and cousin Devon Harris (aka Devo Springsteen), who smoothly samples Sam & Dave’s 1968 exciter, “I Thank You.”
Jewels In The Crown: All-Star Duets With The Queen, a different kind of collection, presents Aretha Franklin as an artist’s artist, a singer’s singer. The album digs deep into the nature of her influence – both the timelessness of her classic ’60s-’70s hits, always ready to be transformed and re-interpreted, as well as her ability to lift the best possible performances from others at the relative beginning of their careers.
Over her long career – from a little girl growing up in Detroit in the light of her father, Rev. C. L. Franklin, to her discovery by A&R legend John Hammond and her earliest pop recordings at Columbia Records in the early 1960s, to her definitive series of hits at Atlantic Records under the guidance of Jerry Wexler and Ahmet Ertegun in the ’60s and ’70s, to her reunion with Clive Davis at Arista in 1980 – Aretha has consistently thrilled audiences with her hip, up-to-date, state-of-the-art approach to life and music.
“God has been so good to me,” she wrote in her candid autobiography, From These Roots (published in 1999), “my life has been and is rewarding, exciting, and creative. And surely the best is yet to come. There are many songs that I want to sing. And sing! And sing! And sing!”