Remembering Aretha Franklin And The LA Performance She Didn't Want You To See
Legendary soul singer Aretha Franklin died Thursday morning at age 76. She made her home here in the '70s and early '80s, but there's one piece of her L.A. life that's been kept hidden from view for decades.
It's the concert film Amazing Grace, shot at the New Bethel Baptist Church in Watts, where she recorded the live album of the same name in 1972. It was the best-selling gospel album of all time and Aretha Franklin's biggest album ever.
The film was shot by Academy Award-winning director Sydney Pollack, but Pollack didn't bring sound-syncing clapper boards, according to the Hollywood Reporter -- leaving him with a movie where they couldn't match the picture with the sound.
While the documentary has yet to be released in full, you can watch the trailer here:
Pollack's team worked to try matching up the footage, but they missed their deadline of when the album came out, failing to put enough together to get close to making a movie. Warner Bros. put the project in the vault.
Starting in 2007, producer Alan Elliott worked with Pollack and bought the footage from Warner Bros. It took years, but new digital technology allowed the images to finally find their sound decades later.
The movie was screened and on track to be released, but Franklin sued the producer for using her image without permission. She went on to block screenings multiple times, including one at the Telluride Film Festival last year, despite telling the Detroit Free Press that she loved the movie.
She didn't say publicly why she was fighting so hard to keep it from being screened, but it could have come down to compensation -- the producer told the Hollywood Reporter, "I understand she's used to getting paid a lot of money to do promotion for a project like this."
Franklin made Los Angeles her home in the mid-'70s before moving back to the Detroit suburbs in the early 1980s.
She developed a fear of flying shortly after moving to Detroit that kept her from heading west for decades, following a bad experience on a small plane.
She finally came back in the 2000s -- but those visits came by tour bus due to that fear, making West Coast dates a bit of an ordeal.
"I love L.A.," she told the L.A. Sentinel ahead of a 2008 concert. "I had my Pink's this morning and can't wait to have Fatburger tomorrow."
She was uncertain at the time if she would come back again due to the six-day bus ride needed to get out here for her.
"I'm always glad to be back in L.A., but this will be my last L.A. performance until I start flying again," Franklin told the Sentinel. "It's a long drive, it's a very long drive and now I know how the people felt who came over in the covered wagons. I know exactly how they felt."
Still, she did end up coming back. Her last L.A. concert was at the Microsoft Theater in 2015.
While she was in L.A., she lived in a house she bought in the Valley near the Walt Disney estate.
"It had a pool, and a brook ran through the center of the property," Heather Lehr Wagner wrote in Aretha Franklin: Singer. She said in her autobiography that she got a little too comfortable with domestic life in California -- including enjoying the best restaurants, which contributed to health problems.
She also married her second husband in L.A., a teacher from the Inner City Repertory Theater -- at the same church where she recorded Amazing Grace. The wedding reception was originally set for her backyard, but in an unusual SoCal event, it was rained out and moved to a hotel. They later separated after Franklin left for Detroit.
The news that Franklin was seriously ill originally went public thanks to family friend/radio host Evrod Cassimy. He later said that he had the chance to speak with her and that she was resting, surrounded by close friends and family.
Franklin started as a teen gospel star before breaking through with hit singles in the 1960s, going on to make music for decades and inspiring generations of singers after her.
A sampling of her major hits:
"(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman"
"Chain of Fools"
"I Say A Little Prayer"
She won a total of 18 Grammys, including both a lifetime achievement award and a Living Legend award. The first woman to surpass her total: Beyoncé.
Fans, both famous and not, shared their memories of Aretha as news that she was seriously ill spread:
There aren't many people who can say they shared a dressing room with the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, but I can! Then both @Tom_Bergeron and I watched in awe as she sang on Fox After Breakfast stage. Yes, I'm deaf but she touched my SOUL. My prayers are with her & her family.— Marlee Matlin (@MarleeMatlin) August 13, 2018
Your tweet @MarleeMatlin sent me looking for this picture of us with the lovely, generous Queen of Soul @ArethaFranklin. What a great day that was! I hope she can somehow feel the loving energy so many are sending her way. #FoxAfterBreakfast pic.twitter.com/VwRxvWTyid— Tom Bergeron (@Tom_Bergeron) August 13, 2018
Never forget that Aretha Franklin saved the 1998 Grammys when she stepped in for Luciano Pavarotti at the last minute to perform "Nessun Dorma." A PERFORMER. pic.twitter.com/CFmkUxMOya— Michael Blackmon (@blackmon) August 13, 2018
John Landis said in the making of, that during the filming of her bit in Blues Brothers, Aretha Franklin had no idea how to mime as she'd never had to do it before. It took many takes and lots of editing, and she still belted it out. https://t.co/F11mYOsu7V— IT'S YOUR DECISION, DANIEL (@MrKenShabby) August 13, 2018
My wife, who has decided to become an adult professional wrestling fan, tried to fast forward over Aretha Franklin's performance at an old WrestleMania. I had to come in from another room to inform her we don't do that in this house.— Johnny Normality (Even More Still Spooky Mode) (@Probgoblin) August 13, 2018
Thinking of you and your family @ArethaFranklin and sending love. My fave Aretha song. https://t.co/lcPh5JAgRt— Mo Gaffney 😷 (@mogaffney) August 13, 2018
Feels selfish to pray for a miracle when she’s been one the whole time.— Rebecca Louise Miller (@rebeccalounyc) August 13, 2018
Aretha, thank you for everything.
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