Celebrating Aretha Franklin’s Gospel Legacy

Celebrating Aretha Franklin’s Gospel Legacy

Aretha Franklin’s indelible mark on sacred and secular music will be felt forever. She is now immortalized as “The Queen of Soul“, but she was much more than that. She was the Queen of Crossover and in this article, let’s take a didactic look at her career that poignantly defined crossover music.

Much like her predecessors Mahalia Jackson, Sam Cooke and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, she enjoyed success of international church and secular audiences. However, unlike either of them, she achieved a level of success in each genre that never put either at odds with the other. Her sound was the amalgam of sanctified soul. Her career possessed dual roles: she reigned as “The Queen of Soul”, but always made true the saying: “you can always come home!” She was a regular visitor and came home to gospel quite often. As her star shined brightest, the world heard her undeniable roots of the church.

Aretha Franklin’s civil rights legacy

Music needs a label for the sake of commerce, or so it seems. “Labels” or genres point you toward the music you like, the sound you identify with. But what happens when the sound you identify with is singing a song you don’t? 

Is Crossover Gospel Music a thing of the past? 

This was the appeal and mystique of the late Ms. Aretha Franklin who became one of the world’s greatest talents and a national treasure at home. Of all the things she became, including the undisputed Queen of Soul, she was always a church girl. Her father’s name is still synonymous with gospel preaching and her playing and singing ever reminiscent of days and nights at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit.

“Gospel goes with me wherever I go. Gospel is a constant with me.”

Truly, the sound of black gospel traveled with the Queen everywhere she went and was the strength behind her trademark sound. She left the church so to speak but never left her faith telling the late Gwen Ifill in a 2015 interview “my faith always has been and always will be important to me.” Though we still wrestle with the paradoxical path of saints singing secular songs, Aretha Franklin rose above it all. She took gospel stylings at the mic and piano to heights never before seen and to audiences never before reached. Her fathers words rang true in that she sang before Kings, Popes and other world leaders, and did so with so much because of and with her father’s blessing. It’s not implausible to surmise that her critics’ overwhelming respect for her father outweighed their opinion of her career choice.

Bishop Paul Morton was great friends with Aretha Franklin and has encouraged his son PJ Morton in a similar way Rev. CL Franklin encouraged his daughter. His son has written and produced gospel music for a bevy of artists including Bishop Morton but has found his truest voice singing secular music. One could assume that Bishop Morton would be juxtaposed by his son’s music, but he is not. In fact, he encourages his success, telling the On the Record podcast earlier this year:

When he said he wanted to do secular music, he said “I will not make you ashamed, I know your standard, I’m going to keep it clean and please trust me. I’m going to do it right!” To me, that’s what’s important and that’s where he got me, he said: “Dad, God is love. If God is love, why can’t I sing about love? If love is bad, why does God tell us to love?” So, he got me there and that was the truth and that’s why I really back him as it relates to what he does.

Bishop Paul S. Morton
A lot of people don’t know that the Queen of Soul title was a real thing. Legendary and quite influential Chicago disc jockeys Pervis Spann (left) and E. Rodney Jones (right) officially crowned Aretha Franklin as the Queen of Soul at The Regal Theater in Chicago in the 1960s.
-Bill Carpenter (Facebook)

She was truly the Queen of Crossover, never not a part of the church. Not a prodigal, but a promulgator because everywhere she went, people were blessed by her gift. She was released to secular music with a light that she let shine as best she could. Her success in secular music was often celebrated in the church as well; she belonged to the church as much as church belonged to her. Over the span of her 60+ year career, she successfully did what so many artists try to do-live in the balance of what is sacred and secular. It’s not for the faint of heart or spirit, as many succumb to the various vices that haunt the entertainment industry. Her troubled past and life was chronicled in David Ritz’ 2014 biography “Respect” which shed a light on the darkness in her life.

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It was that same darkness that spurred the creativity we know and love. Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records had this to say about the Aretha we didn’t know: “I think of Aretha as Our Lady of Mysterious Sorrows. Anguish surrounds Aretha as surely as the glory of her musical aura. But the Queen didn’t need to reveal her secrets or talk about her deepest moments of anguish and joy. It’s all there in her singing, plain as day for everyone to hear.”

Read The Recording Academy’s Statement on the Passing of Aretha Franklin

None of us are without our own level of personal trials and challenges and not even the reigning queen of soul was exempt. Her ability to rise above and conquer those challenges are also part of what endear her to generations of fans, worldwide. Her inspiration was far reaching and blazed the trail for countless artists who would later grace the world’s stage, with the church as their training ground. The likes of Whitney Houston, Fantasia, and Jennifer Hudson all come to mind.

Aretha Franklin inspired artists like Shirley Murdock and Judy Cheeks who also got their start in church and found immense secular success. The singers took to social media to share a tribute to the Queen and pay homage to her legacy.

How can I be selfish right now? The most amazing and most talented singer/musician of all time has earned her crown and her wings. I have been blessed by her unselfish obedience to the call on her life my entire life…we have all been touched by God’s love every time she sang a note…We have so much of her still here…We will miss her physical presence, but the gift God gave through her will be here forever…Rest in heavenly peace my Queen…-Judy Cheeks

Thank you Queen Aretha Franklin, for being such a prominent piece in the tapestry of my life and career. I attended your master class, as a little girl while sitting next to the hi-fi, under those big air traffic controller looking headphones, eyes closed and mimicking your every note. I was profoundly influenced by how you sang from the depths of your soul.

I remember getting in trouble as a nine-year-old, for singing “Dr. Feelgood” with too much feeling, according to my Mother! But most of all, with all your success, you showed me that I could stay connected to my Gospel roots and relationship with God while sharing my gift with the whole world! You were a gift from up above and now the heavenly choir has been blessed with the gift of a new soloist!-Shirley Murdock


A testament to her unyielding connection to the church, A. Jeffrey Lavalley of the New Jerusalem Full Gospel Baptist Church recounts his experiences accompanying the Queen of Soul in this interview for ABC 12 in Flint, Michigan. He is one of gospel music’s profound songwriters and several of his song has become standards in the church and long-standing memories for singers who sharpened their skills in the church choir. He had this to say when asked about Aretha Franklin: “Aretha’s ability to blend gospel and R&B was unique. She could easily slip from one genre to another without missing a beat. She was born to do what she did—sing. Be it classical, soul, pop, jazz and/or gospel, Aretha was simply born to sing.

Join the Conversation in: “The Gospel Music Series”

She never shied away from her gospel roots, regardless of the genre or content of the song. Gospel shined through in her singing and playing. Ronnette Harrison, a singer and musician in DC had this to say about Franklin’s influence: “Aretha Franklin is such an inspiration as an artist. Her ability to fluidly weave between various genres of music and execute each of them with precision & soul was unmatched. As a female pianist & vocalist myself, I looked up to her. There will NEVER be another Aretha Franklin.

Aretha Franklin never met a song she couldn’t sing. There were a few she didn’t want to such as “Let It Be”, but she mastered every genre her voice touched, including classical music. Watch her masterful rendition of “Nessun Dorma”. 

Throughout her career, she was known for her originals as well as covers. Once she sang a song, it was hers. She didn’t have to be a song’s author to be its owner. Upon hearing her now world-famous cover of “Respect”, Otis Redding remarked: “she done took my song”. She embodied the essence of masterful songwriting and in her touch were all the craftsmanship of hit songwriting. Perhaps eclipsed by the Redding classic, other Franklin signature covered, popularized and re-popularized by Franklin were “Natural Woman” and “You’ve Got a Friend” (Precious Lord) by Carole King, Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Until You Come Back to Me by Stevie Wonder.

Rena Scott whose current single is the latter said this about Franklin: “Aretha was my musical Idol and Mentor. I loved her so much I started in a Baptist church like she did in Detroit, Michigan. I started singing when I was 12 years old, I listened to every Aretha Franklin song she ever recorded. I wanted to be just like her. I got an opportunity to work with her in 1978 singing background at Carnegie Hall in New York and the Pine Knob resort in upper Michigan. She invited us to her home and cooked for us. She then flew us to Southern, California to do background on her upcoming album. I didn’t want to leave her side. I just looked at everything she did. That was one of the best moments of my life to sing with my Idol Aretha Franklin. I will always love you Aretha.

Aretha Franklin was one of the church’s greatest exports and though her fame was achieved on a larger scale as a secular artists, she was always welcomed home. It was never strange to see Ms. Franklin in a church in Detroit. In 1994, at the death of their mother, The Clark Sisters tapped her to sing during their mother’s funeral- a legend in her own right, the late Mattie Moss-Clark. Some of her greatest gospel work came alongside the late Reverend James Cleveland and their friendship extended well beyond the sanctuary and bandstand.

Aretha Franklin’s “Amazing Grace” on Atlantic Records

Their work was quintessential and the 1972’s double platinum release “Amazing Grace”  recorded at Rev. Cleveland’s church and backed by his choir still stands as Franklin’s top selling album, replete with classic renditions of “Precious Memories” and the title track have proven timeless.

    “The relationship my dad had with Ms. Aretha was far more than a working relationship, it was a genuine FRIENDSHIP! I will always cherish the wonderful things she said about my father when she called me after his passing! I will never forget attending her son Eddy’s wedding with my dad at her home in California! I can honestly say she’s the reason I took a liking to quiche! Ms. Aretha could sing and cook! I’m going to miss her, but I’ll never forget her! She’s resting in heaven with her father and mine!”  -Lashone Cleveland 

The one thing I admire about Ms Franklin, was she always stay connected to the church & to her heritage of the church & to the artists that help shape her, like James Cleveland & Ms Clara Ward who was her major influence in gospel & music…she always cherished the icons before her & reminded the new generation to embrace their work, just like she did. -Archie Swindell, Radio Veteran

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She never had to be anyone else, on or off stage. She was true to herself regardless of the circumstance and the world got beautiful music because of it. As a musician, a consummate professional and she surrounded herself with much of the same. “Amazing Grace” was replete with world-class musicians, singers and talent all around. A band comprised notables such as the King of Gospel, the Reverend James Cleveland, Chuck Rainey on bass, Cornell Dupree on guitar (you know his famous guitar riff on the intro of “Respect”), Pancho Morales on percussion and Bernard Purdie on drums. On her 1987 release “One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism”, Rev. Thomas Whitfield joined on organ, punctuating a stout appreciation for musicality and excellence in performance.

Producer, composer and musician Sanchez Harley shared this admonition from the Queen: “Sanchez, perfect is not perfect” Words of wisdom spoken to me by Ms. Franklin. I bless God for the special and treasured blessing of choosing me to be just a small part of her musical legacy. The greatest voice of “our time” is not adequate. “The greatest instrument “of all time” is more appropriate. Thank you, Ms. Franklin for sharing your extraordinary gifts unselfishly with the world.-Sanchez Harley

Aretha Franklin’s Gospel Discography: 
“Never Grow Old”-1956, JVB/Checker Records
“Amazing Grace”- 1972, Atlantic Records
“One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism”- 1987, Arista Records

Our rose will forever be a rose, put some respect on her name. She’s the Queen of soul, crossover and the hearts of music lovers everywhere! Funeral plans are still developing, here’s what we know.


Commemorative video of Aretha Franklin, courtesy of TIME Magazine
Prominent Organist and Pianist PJ MORGAN Releases Debut Jazz Single “Hit The Floor” and Announces Album – THE TRANSPARENCY PROJECT

Prominent Organist and Pianist PJ MORGAN Releases Debut Jazz Single “Hit The Floor” and Announces Album – THE TRANSPARENCY PROJECT

Paul Lawrence Morgan – “PJ Morgan” is best known as the Organist’s organist.  The Washington, DC native grew up in a musical family, getting his exposure to the Hammond organ in a small Pentecostal church where his family served.   After years of performing and playing in church, his big break into the music industry came when he was asked to fill in for a keyboardist who was unable to play for multiple award-winning Jazz musician Ben Tankard.  Impressed with PJ’s creativity and productivity both on and off the instrument, Tankard moved PJ to Nashville to be his Music Director and to assist in building his record company.  Since then, PJ has been on a blazing trail, playing in Gospel and mainstream genres, and earning well deserved accolades as a performer, producer, and teacher. 
In his career span, PJ has become a renowned musician and producer sought after by some of the most recognizable artists in the music industry: Bishop Paul Morton, Dorothy Norwood, Ben Tankard, Tramaine Hawkins, Pastor Shirley Caesar and Maurette Brown-Clark.  And, he has toured with Najee, Bobby Jones, Karen Clark Sheared, Ben Tankard, Yolanda Adams and William Becton.   
PJ is a 3X Stellar Gospel Music Award nominee for Producer of the Year and is currently the band director at Reid Temple AME, one of the largest mega-churches in the United States with over 20,000 members and 3 locations in the Washington Metropolitan area.  PJ graduated from Bowie State University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music Technology, and a minor in Classical Piano performance (Magna Cum Laude) and now teaches Composition and Theory at The Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, DC.
PJ has now recorded his debut solo instrumental jazz album THE TRANSPARENCY PROJECT.  His new album showcases PJ’s musical brilliancy with original Smooth Jazz compositions “Hit The Floor” and“Closer”, and allows his church influence to flow through his dynamic organ arrangements of classic hymns “Yes God Is Real” and “As The Deer”.  Vocalist Antonio Mclendon joins PJ on the beautifully orchestrated ballad “How”, while singer John Stoddart exudes all passion and heart on “All Out Of Tears”.
“Hit The Floor” will be impacting Smooth Jazz Radio formats in May and is available now on all digital music and streaming outlets.
THE TRANSPARENCY PROJECT gives PJ an opportunity to step into the spotlight as the featured musician, songwriter and producer.  THE TRANSPARENCY PROJECT is set to release June 1st via the Washington, DC based independent label 1DMV Music Group
2018 Stellar Gospel Music Awards nominees have been announced, Anthony Brown & Group TherAPy tops with ten

2018 Stellar Gospel Music Awards nominees have been announced, Anthony Brown & Group TherAPy tops with ten

Top Nominees This Year Also Include Deitrick Haddon, Ricky Dillard, Marvin Sapp, The Williams Brothers, CeCe Winans, The Rance Allen Group,  Bishop Paul S. Morton, Tina Campbell
and Le’Andria Johnson 
Gospel Superstar Kirk Franklin Returns to Host Annual Salute to Gospel Music Taped on Saturday, March 24, 2018 and
Premiering in Syndication This Spring

Central City Productions announces the nominees in 28 categories for the 33rd Annual Stellar Gospel Music Awards, hosted again this year by history-making artist, Kirk Franklin on Saturday, March 24. Contemporary gospel group Anthony Brown & group therAPy leads the field of nominees this year with ten nominations. The group earned recognition for its work on the album “A Long Way From Sunday” (Key of A/Fair Trade/Tyscot Records) in the key categories of Artist of the Year, Song of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year, CD of the Year, Duo/Chorus Group of the Year, Producer of the Year, Contemporary Duo/Chorus Group of the Year, Contemporary Male Vocalist of the Year, Contemporary CD of the Year, and Urban/Inspirational Single or Performance of the Year.

With nine nominations each, chart-topping soloist Tasha Cobbs Leonard, gospel choir J.J. Hairston & Youthful Praise, and praise and worship artist Travis Greene demonstrate excellence in the field as recognized by the Stellar Awards voting body. Cobbs Leonard is nominated in the hotly-contested categories of Artist of the Year, Albertina Walker Female Vocalist of the Year, CD of the Year and Producer of the Year among others for her work on “Heart. Passion. Pursuit.” (Motown Gospel). J.J. Hairston & Youthful Praise are nominated in the Artist of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year, CD of the Year & Choir of the Year categories among their nine nods for the group’s work on “You Deserve It” (JamesTown Music/Entertainment One). Greene continues to rise in the gospel genre, earning nominations this year in the top categories of Artist of the Year, Song of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year, CD of the Year and Producer of the Year for his work on “Crossover Live in Music City” (RCA Inspiration).

Complete list of 2018 Stellar Gospel Music Awards nominees

With five nominations each, veterans Deitrick Haddon and Ricky Dillard demonstrate their staying power in gospel music, representing contemporary and traditional gospel, respectively. Haddon is recognized for Contemporary Male Vocalist of the Year, Contemporary Duo/Chorus of the Year, Contemporary CD of the Year, Duo/Group Chorus of the Year and Producer of the Year for work on “Deitrick Haddon & Hill City Worship Camp” (Entertainment One). Dillard is recognized for Traditional Male Vocalist of the Year, Traditional CD of the Year, Traditional Choir of the Year, Choir of the Year and Recorded Music Packaging of the Year.

Anthony Brown & Tasha Cobbs Leonard – from 33rd Annual Stellar Awards Nominee

33rd Annual Stellar Awards Nominee by Central City Productions on Livestream – Livestream.com

Other artists earning multiple nominations include Marvin Sapp, The Williams Brothers, CeCe Winans, The Rance Allen Group, Bishop Paul S. Morton, Tina Campbell and Le’Andria Johnson.

Don Jackson, Founder of the Stellar Awards and Chairman of Central City Productions, Inc. commented, “I am extremely excited about our 2018 Stellar Awards nominees and especially pleased for the role our annual Stellar Awards television special has played in the success of the 2018 multiple Stellar Award nominees including Anthony Brown and group therAPy, Tasha Cobbs Leonard, JJ Hairston and Travis Greene…all of whom performed on our 2017 StellarAwards. In addition, I am thrilled to see established artists such as CeCe Winans, Marvin Sapp, Bishop Paul Morton, Tina Campbell, Dietrick Haddon, Ricky Dillard, The Williams Brothers and Le’Andria Johnson back among the nominees this year.”

The Stellar Awards show taping will return to The Orleans Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday, March 24, 2018 and is open to the public, with ticket prices ranging from $50 – $200 at www.ticketmaster.com.
The weekend of activities begin with the Stellar Awards Independent Artist & Quartet Showcase, taking place on Thursday, March 22, with winners performing at the non-televised awards pre-show ceremony. The 2018 Stellar Gospel Music Awards Pre-Show is scheduled for Friday, March 23 to showcase non-televised award winners. Also, the Stellar Gospel Radio Awards & Showcase will be held on Saturday, March 24, honoring top radio stations and announcers serving urban gospel music audiences. Tickets for each event can be purchased at www.ticketmaster.com.
Because you want the updates as they happen, stay with us through Stellar season! We’ve got updates, exclusives and other interviews coming your way! We’ll be back on the carpet this year talking to all your favorite artists, executives and celebrities!
Central City Productions
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