THIS MONTH sees the release of Amazing Grace, the incredible long lost concert film from the late, great Aretha Franklin, capturing her as she recorded her timeless album of the same name, with support from the Southern California Community Choir and Reverend James Cleveland. The film will be released in cinemas from this Friday (May 10), 47 years after it was first recorded.
The passing of Aretha Franklin last year gave us all an opportunity to reconnect and reconsider the Queen of Soul’s back catalogue and experience the sheer brilliance of hits such as I Never Loved A Man, Baby I Love You, Chain of Fools and the iconic Respect.
These songs were made when Franklin was very much the marquee act for Atlantic Records, keeping them firmly at the top of the Pop and R&B charts. Her success, however, masked the fact that Atlantic were reeling from the death of Otis Redding and Ray Charles moving to another label.
Fuelled by the Civil Rights Movement and the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, African American culture started to veer away from the white “mainstream”. Responding to this, Aretha Franklin and her producer Jerry Wexler, decided that her next recording would take her back to the music of her youth, back to the world of American Gospel music.
The result was Amazing Grace – the legendary set of songs that would go on to be the biggest selling Gospel album of all time and the biggest selling of Franklin’s career.
Whilst planning the album, Warner Brothers agreed to film her performing the songs in a specially organised session, with Oscar winning filmmaker Sydney Pollack directing the film.
However, due to a number of production challenges, the film remained unreleased for almost 40 years. A true labour of love, one of the producers, Alan Elliot, has been working on the film since 1990.
The film features songs such as What a Friend We Have in Jesus, How I Got Over, Mary Don’t You Weep and the truly timeless titular Amazing Grace. Despite the album being almost five decades old, the reaction of the congregation and the choir needs to be seen to be believed. Aretha Franklin’s vocal mastery and artistic excellence has never been surpassed (as represented by her 18 Grammys, and Aretha being the first female representative of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame), and with Amazing Grace, we now have a chance to see an artist at the height of her powers.
Amazing Grace is in cinemas from May 10. A preview screening took place at Union Chapel on May 8, with the Shalom Chorale Gospel Choir & Special Guests.