ARETHA: FROM THESE ROOTS BY ARETHA FRANKLIN & DAVID RITZ

Aretha Franklin in red dress 1960s

I had read about Aretha’s autobiography before I had actually read the book itself, with the main criticism being the lack of  personal details and the glossing over of many areas of Aretha Franklin’s life. So I approached the book without too many expectations of understanding the Queen of Soul herself.

Indeed, upon reading it, for anyone who was expecting Aretha to reveal any juicy details about her personal life, tabloid-style, then I understand why they might be disappointed.

Many times “for the sake of respect and dignity,” Aretha tells a story but uses pseudonyms for the main subject of the narrative. Fair enough to respect the privacy of others, but it did make me question the point of including the story if the most interesting parts are left out.

For the gossip seekers, there are some mentions of fallings out with the likes of Gladys Knight, Mavis Staples, Luther Vandross and her sisters, as well as bittersweet references to Diana Ross. The feuds are not particularly detailed but the common theme seems to be that it was always the other party doing wrong by Aretha, rather than any hint of her possibly contributing to the problem.

However, the promise of revealing juicy goss is not necessarily a pre-requisite of an autobiography, especially for someone as dignified and private as Aretha Franklin.

There are many positives to the book, particularly (and most importantly) where the music is concerned. It’s fantastic to hear about Aretha’s childhood, steeped in gospel and the massive influence of her father, the Reverend C.L. Franklin, who seemed to be an incredible preacher, orator and all-round personality.

Learning about all the lesser known gospel groups and singers who were so inspiring to the young Aretha Franklin is incredibly interesting, as is her friendships with Dr Martin Luther King, Sam Cooke and Smokey Robinson, to name a few.

Most amusingly, and I’m fairly sure it accurately represents Aretha’s sense of humour, is the constant mention of food. There are a few occasions in the book where Aretha claims that the events were so long ago that she can no longer remember the details, but has absolutely no problem in remembering where she could get the best ribs, burgers, waffles or ice cream in any city, during any part of her life. The constant culinary references were a real highlight of the book for me!

Apart from all the food, Aretha: From These Roots is definitely worth reading for Aretha’s descriptions and appraisals of her albums as well as all the people she’s worked with during her incredible career and she is gracious in thanking a great deal of people who have helped her along the way.

For those looking for those wanting to know more about the woman herself, it may feel a little disappointing as some important events have clearly been excised, white-washed or misremembered. A more warts and all biography can be found in Respect: The Life & Time of Aretha Franklin by David Ritz.