A biography of the “Queen of Soul” by the co-author of her memoir, From These Roots (1999).
Grammy winner and prolific music writer Ritz (co-author, with Maceo Parker: 98% Funky Stuff, 2013, etc.) explains that this book came about because of Franklin’s refusal to discuss any aspect of her life that contradicts the image she has of herself. To correct the distorted portrait in her previous book, he draws on the accounts of family members and business acquaintances such as her longtime manager, Ruth Bowen, and Jerry Wexler, who produced her Atlantic recordings in the 1960s and ’70s. The story begins with her father, a charismatic preacher who took her and her sisters from their Detroit home on the gospel music circuit when their talent became evident. The influence of gospel and the black church remained an indelible part of Franklin’s music. At 18, she signed a record deal with Columbia, then the biggest label in the business. However, the Columbia approach never managed to capture the power of her music, and her insistence that her records include something for everyone was a marketing nightmare. Also, her then-husband, a shady character one of her friends describes as “a gentleman pimp,” controlled her career until she left Columbia for Atlantic and broke into the popular awareness as an unmatched performer. But great success did nothing to alleviate her deep insecurities. Ritz draws on the memories of Franklin’s sisters and her brother, Bowen, Wexler and others who were close to her to document her struggles—with her weight, with alcohol, and with the up-and-down business end of her career. As the years progressed, her hits became fewer and farther between, and her fear of flying caused her to cancel appearances. At the same time, Ritz fully praises Franklin’s abundant musical gifts and her work for causes she believes in, including civil rights.
An honest and genuinely respectful portrait of a true diva by a writer who feels the power of her art.