We lost a legend yesterday -- you don't need me to tell you that; the mainstream media has been all over the story, with their usual subtlety.
NPR re-ran an interview with her from the late 1990s that had more substance to it, including a recording of her at the age of 14, performing gospel music in church. Even then, her talent is unmistakable. Her father was a preacher and the interview included a brief excerpt from one of his sermons. His style was impressive -- not quite "hiccup" preaching, but rhythmic, melodic, a well-written sermon in fairly free verse, almost but not quite sung.
It reminded me of working in radio a lifetime ago. Sunday mornings in a typical Indiana county-seat station, you ran a lot of religious programs, in hour or half-hour blocks. If you were lucky, one of two of them would be a "nemo," live services from a local church, carried over high-quality phone lines. The station I was working for had two such programs. One was from a very large Methodist church, a professionally-produced, multi-microphone, half-hour segment of their morning services that included the sermon and a few hymns. It was reliably good and back at the station, I could sit back and spend time in the kind of church I'd grown up attending.
The other one was from a traditional African-American church. The sound was picked up by a single, high-quality microphone over the pulpit. The preacher worked in full-on "hiccup" style, a pattern of verse as structured and complex as any old Norse skaldic poem, and included plenty of call-and-response. The music was wonderful gospel, full of joy. The entire service was mesmerizing and I looked forward to it every Sunday I worked. With just one microphone, it took a little gain-riding at the station -- but that single mike meant you were right there, in the middle of everything. It was some of the best radio I ever had the opportunity to be involved with.
TV and radio has been playing plenty of Aretha Franklin's better-known work. Here's one they may've missed, her take on "I Say A Little Prayer."
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