By 1971, Aretha Franklin had recorded over 20 albums, won 5 Grammys and had 11 consecutive number one pop and R & B singles. Huge hits like Think, Respect, I Say A Little Prayer and A Natural Woman that are still adored today.
In 1972, Aretha decided to do something different. She came to a Baptist Church in LA to record an album of the music she sang in her youth. Amazing Grace is that gospel album she recorded live over two nights and stands as the biggest selling release of her entire fifty-plus year recording career as well as the highest-selling live gospel music album of all time.
Sydney Pollack was hired by Warner Brothers Films to document the recordings. Pollack shot 20 hours of raw footage using 16 mm cameras.
At Aretha’s side was the most famous figure in contemporary gospel, Reverend James Cleveland and his group, the Southern California Community Choir.
The film, because of technical problems was never finished, and due to multiple legal obstacles including from Franklin herself, the film, once resurrected from the vault was repeatedly blocked from release.
As the Reverend welcomes the smallish crowd to the first night, he explains the audience are about to not just witness an incredible event, hearing the Lady of Soul singing religious songs in a church, but they are going to be part of it as he urges the assembled churchgoers to sound as loud as a 2000 strong crowd.
Aretha kicks it off on piano with Marvin Gaye’s Holy Holy. What a voice.
On the second night Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts were in the audience. In L.A. finishing their album Exile on Main St., and it is said “the gospel inflections of songs such as ‘Shine a Light’ and ‘Let It Loose’ were inspired by this visit.
An incredible document of a phenomenal talent in full flight. 4 Stars.