Beyond Respect: Aretha Franklin records in the Marr Sound Archives

Aretha Franklin at the Kauffman center in May, 2012. (courtesy of Media Mikes)

We all know Aretha Franklin. She is (for now) the most successful American female solo artist in history. She’s the Queen of Soul who recorded the song that became an anthem for women everywhere. In 2010 Rolling Stone ranked her as the #1 singer of all time, saying “when it comes to expressing yourself through song, there is no one who can touch her. She is the reason why women want to sing.” On February 9, 2017, Rolling Stone also announced that Franklin is retiring from public performing following the release of her next album. With that in mind, we at the Marr Sound Archive want to give you a taste of some of her work that is in our collection. Some of this you may know, some not. We’ll start with the song everyone knows (or should know), and work backwards to her earliest record.

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the recording and release of “Respect,” recorded at Atlantic Records Studio in New York City on February 14, 1967. The song was the lead track on the album I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You (released March 10, 1967, Atlantic 8139) and was later released as a single (April 29, 1967, Atlantic 45-2403). We have both the albums and the historic single. “Respect” was produced by Jerry Wexler. Wexler worked with Franklin from 1966-1975. He also has connections to the Kansas-Missouri area. In the 1930s, Wexler attended Kansas State University. Outside of school he received his introduction to Jazz and Blues music by visiting bars and music clubs along Twelfth Street in Kansas City.

Prior to working with Wexler at Atlantic Records, Aretha was with Columbia Records. Her first secular album was Aretha: with the Ray Bryant Combo, (Columbia CL1612) released by Columbia in 1961. In addition to vocals, she played piano on four tracks: “Won’t be Long” “Who Needs You?,” “Are You Sure” and “Maybe I’m a Fool”. At 18 she was still a somewhat raw talent. Below are short clips transcribed from our copy of the album. Listen closely to “Maybe I’m a Fool” and you can hear her voice break just a little.

Ray Bryant and Aretha were both signed to Columbia Records by producer John Hammond in 1959. Like Wexler, Hammond had some connections to Kansas City, having signed Count Basie to Columbia in 1936. 1959 was a big year for Hammond. That year he signed Aretha Franklin, Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan, all of whom were under the age of twenty.

Aretha at about 14 years old when she was first recorded by Joe Von Battle. (courtesy

Aretha Franklin got her start singing at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit. Her father, Clarence LaVaughn Franklin, was minister there from 1946 until 1979. C.L Franklin became a central figure in the black community. According to Mark Bego, the Franklin home “played host to a virtual who’s who of popular black music.” Young Aretha was part of the church choir. Her father recognized her talent, and at 14 he began taking her to other churches to perform with gospel groups. As Reverend Franklin’s own legend grew, he organized a “traveling revival show.” As a teenager, Aretha spent several summers traveling with the road show’s choir. At the same time, Joe Von Battles was recording LPs of Reverend Franklin’s sermons. Battles was a Detroit record shop owner, and founder of JVB Records (later changed to Battle Records). In 1956, Battles recorded 14-year old Aretha Franklin at New Bethel Baptist Church. The Marr Sound Archives does not have any copies of Battle’s original album. In fact, original JVB/Battle pressings are quite probably the rarest of all Aretha records. Fortunately, the songs Battle recorded have been re-issued a number of times by Chess, Checker, Geffen, and other record labels. In our collection is a 1982 issue by Checker Records (Checker LP CH8500), for which music critic Peter Guralnick wrote the album notes. Of Franklin’s performance, Guralnick wrote “everything that Aretha would one day become, the same soulful struts that she would put into “I Never Loved a Man, “Respect,” even funky old “Dr. Feelgood,” are all here in the plain, unvarnished, but far-from-simple truth of hymns.” We are not professional music critics, but having listened to this album we think it is pretty extraordinary. The lead track on that album can be heard below.

The preceding barely scratches the surface of Aretha Franklin’s extraordinary life and career. She was a true prodigy, a gifted singer surrounded my other successful black musicians. She was seemingly destined for stardom from an early age. However her personal life was marked by a series of devastating emotional experiences. In his biography, Bego concludes that both of these factors shaped her music. Hopefully hearing her sing at various stages in her life gives readers a greater appreciation for the treasure she truly is.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Aretha Gospel. Recorded September 10, 1991. Geffen, 1991, Streaming Audio. Accessed February 20, 2017.

Bego, Mark. Aretha Franklin : The Queen of Soul. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2012.

Marr Sound Archives contains well over 100 entries for Aretha Franklin in our Library Catalog. Among these are many of her classic LPs and singles, including the ones mentioned in this post. We hope you’ll come listen to some of them soon!

Correction: Previously this post had a full version of the 1956 album. Since only UMKC network users could stream it, we’ve replaced it with a youtube link. The whole album can be heard at the Marr Sound Archives.

Metered Response to a President’s Murder

Of Poetry and Power Album Cover

Of Poetry and Power Album Cover, Folkways Records FL 9721

Following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, there was an outpouring from poets across the country as they attempted to absorb the horrific event.  By mid-1964, Basic Books published a collection of works from prominent American and British poets entitled Of Poetry and Power:  Poems Occasioned by the Presidency and the Death of John F. Kennedy.  It included poems by well-known writers like Gwendolyn Brooks, W. H. Auden, A. R. Ammons, and Donald Hall, among many others.  In the following year, Folkways Records released an album of selections from the book.  The recordings convey an immediacy of the work of these artists as they attempted to creatively come to grips with the shock of Kennedy’s death and its impact on them personally and on the country as a whole.

Iron Curtain Avant Garde: Recordings from the Warsaw Autumn Music Festival

Album Cover

Album cover for Lutoslawski’s “3 Poems by Henry Mirchaux” and Szabelski’s “Preludes for Chamber Orchestra.”

In 1956, Poland was well under Communist rule with much of Eastern Europe beyond the Iron Curtain. However, the artistic mainstream of Poland was vastly different from the Social Realist style that dominated murals, music and other public art of neighboring USSR and East Germany. Though funded by the government, artists and musicians openly embraced Avant Garde compositions, which manifested itself in everything from cinema posters to the annual Warsaw Autumn Music festival.

The communist state strongly supported composers, and encouraged them to compose music that was distinctly national, which composers like Lutoslawski and his peers accepted as a challenge. His works were strongly influenced by Polish folklore, but he took stylistic liberties to craft strikingly original works that were viewed abroad as successes in Modern Classical Music.

From 1949 to 1956, Poland was cut off from the Western music world, so Polish composers were unable to keep up with Western contemporaries’ new trends in composing. But once the Stalinist Rule was overturned in 1956, scores of scores were finally available to them to reconnect with the rest of the Musical World. This climate created the perfect environment for the Warsaw Autumn, where composers debuted new works for the entire world and groups from around the world were invited to play concerts at the National Philharmonic Hall in Warsaw.

The festival helped launch the successful careers of several Polish composers like Krzysztof Penderecki, who, in 1959 at the age of 25, debuted “Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima” which used extended instrumental techniques—such as playing behind the bridge on string instruments—and used tone clusters to add musical texture. This work gained him international acclaim and firmly cemented Warsaw as an international center of Avant Garde composition.

In the 1960s, the festival gained more serious international attention, drawing significant audiences of fashionable Poles and international music critics. According to Eric Salzman, The Pittsburgh Orchestra earned a swell of applause for their performance of a work by Gunther Schuller, however the works they performed by Copland, Piston and Hindemith failed to capture the attentions of the audience.

In 1963 the Warsaw Autumn held 17 events with a total of 96 works performed to 18,900 listeners throughout the duration of the festival. Among the works performed, Witold Lutoslawski debuted “3 poems by Henry Michaux,” a work for chorus and orchestra and Boleslaw Szabelski debuted “Preludio” for chamber orchestra. The works were recorded upon their debut and paired as a 10 inch record distributed internationally by the Warsaw-based Muza label. The compositions are both strong examples of the prominent Polish Avant Garde style–full of haunting sonic textures mixing voices and scattered orchestra instruments like piano and flute, unconventional meter and technique.

This record went on to win the 1964 Koussevistky International Recording Award in New York as well as the First Prize of the Tribune de Compositeurs from UNESCO in Paris the same year.

In the Marr Sound Archives, we have many works from Polish Avant Garde composers active in making the Warsaw Autumn an unqualified success that continues to this day. This recording of two remarkable performances from the 1963 Warsaw Autumn is available for in-library use.

The Passing of a “Genteel Englishwoman”

We mourn the recent passing of Marian McPartland, jazz legend and host of the popular radio show on NPR, “Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz.”  Born in Windsor, England, March 20, 1918, McPartland moved to Chicago in 1946 with her American husband, Jimmy.  She became a fixture of the American jazz scene, first as a pianist in the 1950s, and then in 1978 as the host of her radio show.  McPartland was one of only three women featured in the iconographic 1958 photo A Great Day in Harlem, a b&w group portrait of 57 notable jazz musicians photographed in front of a brownstone in Harlem, New York City by freelance photographer Art Kane, for Esquire Magazine (McPartland is on the front row, standing next to KC native and jazz pianist great, Mary Lou Williams.)


(Photo c. by Art Kane, reproduction courtesy of Twisted Sifter WWW site)

The Marr Sound Archives on the ground floor of Miller Nichols Library houses many recordings of McPartland.  Check out our library catalog!

One favorite LP located in Marr is the 1977 recording on the Improv label: Marian and Jimmy McPartland and the All Star Jazz Assassins.  Our copy features McPartland’s signature with additional narrative: “Spelled my name wrong as well as putting this lousy cover on the front!”  You judge the cover for yourself!

McPartland1 McPartland2

Always experimental, when McPartland turned 80, she said “I’ve become a bit more — reckless, maybe. I’m getting to the point where I can smash down a chord and not know what it’s going to be, and make it work. And though I’ll never swing like Mary Lou Williams, I’m better at it than I used to be”–Terry Teachout, The New York Times, March 15, 1998.

McPartland passed away at the age of 95 on Aug. 20, 2013 at her home in Port Washington, N.Y.

~ Wendy Sistrunk, Head, Special Formats Metadata & Cataloging Dept., UMKC

Samples of Steinweiss show superlative skills

Frankie Cable EncoresYou’ve probably never considered it but someone had to invent the album cover. Early 78 rpm sets were sold as literal albums, 3-4 sleeves holding discs and bound together, wrapped by boring brown kraft paper. At Columbia Records in the late 1930s, a young man by the name of Alex Steinweiss had the brilliant idea to add designs to these covers in order to boost album sales, and his plan was wildly successful. Fortunately for posterity’s sake Mr. Steinweiss was an extremely witty and adroit designer, and you can now partake of examples of his remarkable skill in the display cases on the Ground Floor of MNL!

But hurry, the display will only be up through this Friday, September 9. “Alex Steinweiss: Inventor of the Album Cover” features an array of albums from the Marr Sound Archive that highlight the impact this remarkable designer had on an entire industry.

Stuart Hinds, Director of Special Collections, UMKC Libraries