Episode 6: Soul Sisters

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In this episode we — finally !— get to meet some powerful and successful Rock n Roll women. It’s a great storyline we will grow and develop as we move through the years. To the best of our ability, we employ a feminist perspective for much of today’s discussion; we think that’s what serves the story best, and it just feels like the right thing to do. 

We open in Manhattan, in the main room, the big studio at Columbia Records. It’s Fall of 1963. A big-time, high-stakes recording session for Aretha Franklin is about to get underway. Aretha is an astonishing, one-in-a-billion talent, but it’s just not clicking for her at Columbia.

We spend a little time exploring why it isn’t clicking, and then we talk a little about the feminist perspective, and why we think it is called for.

And we move on from Manhattan, to South Grand Avenue in Detroit; to Hitsville, USA—Motown Records.

Early summer, 1964, and Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson are worried. Motown has taken a tough hit, losing their top-selling artist, Mary Wells. These guys have no way of knowing it, but not to worry: Motown is just about to BLOW UP. And it’s the first female pop superstar, Diana Ross, who will touch off that explosion.

We talk a bit about Berry, about the Motown Fun Factory, and about Diana. And we have to stop and wonder: why does a driven, ambitious man like Berry Gordy get called a visionary and a leader, but a driven and ambitious woman like Diana…well she gets called something else entirely. What’s the deal there?

Then we head south, Deep South, to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and meet the Swampers. We hear from the effusive, fast-talking Atlantic Records Exec, Jerry Wexler. When Aretha comes over to Atlantic, it’s Wex who puts her together with the Swampers. It’s a magical moment, but it does not last.

While there may have been cooperation and racial harmony in the studio, outside it’s still Alabama. That state is convulsed by the civil rights movement and the angry, hateful backlash it inspires. And it’s not just the state of Alabama; it is a tense and angry nation that awaits The Fire Next Time.

We close out the show with a detailed look at the anguish and the glory of Aretha Franklin and her music. A holy blend; a terrible beauty: captured and preserved forever.

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Songs from Episode 6

Arthur Conley: “Sweet Soul Music,” (Written by Arthur Conley, Sam Cooke, and Otis Redding), single released 1967, Atco Records

The Drifters: “On Broadway,” (Written by Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller), single released 1963, Atlantic Records

Aretha Franklin: “Soulville,” (Written by Titus Turner, Morris Levy, Henry Glover, and Dinah Washington), from Unforgettable: a Tribute to Dinah Washington, 1964 Columbia Records

Aretha Franklin: “Over the Rainbow,” (Written by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg) from Aretha: With The Ray Bryant Combo, 1961 Columbia Records

James Brown: “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World,” (Written by James Brown and Betty Newsome), single released 1966, King Records

Mary Wells: “My Guy,” (Written by Smokey Robinson), single released 1964, Motown Records

Martha and The Vandellas: “Dancing in the Street,” (Written by Marvin Gaye, Ivy Jo Hunter, Mickey Stevenson), single released 1964 Motown Records

The Marvellettes: “Please Mr. Postman,” (Written by Robert Bateman, Georgia Dobbins, William Garrett, Freddie Gorman, Brian Holland) single released 1961, Tamla Records

Junior Walker and the All Stars: “Shotgun,” single released 1965, Motown Records

Four Tops: “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” (Written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Eddie Holland), single released 1966, Motown Records

Temptations: “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” (Written by Eddie Holland and Norman Whitfield), single released 1966, Gordy Records

Four Tops: “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch),” (Written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Eddie Holland), single released 1965, Motown Records

Four Tops: “Standing in the Shadow of Love,” (Written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Eddie Holland), single released 1966, Motown Records

The Supremes: “Where Did Our Love Go?” (Written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Eddie Holland), single released 1964, Motown Records

Diana Ross & The Supremes: “Reflections,” (Written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Eddie Holland), single released 1967, Motown Records

The Supremes: “Come See About Me,” (Written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Eddie Holland), single released 1964, Motown Records

Wilson Pickett: “Mustang Sally,” (Written by Mack Rice), from The Wicked Pickett, 1966 Atlantic Records

Wilson Pickett: “Land of 1000 Dances,” (Written by Chris Kenner), from The Exciting Wilson Pickett, 1966 Atlantic Records

Gil Scott-Heron: “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” from Pieces of a Man, 1971 Flying Dutchman Records

Aretha Franklin: “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” (Written by Ronnie Shannon), from I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You), 1967 Atlantic Records

Aretha Franklin: “Chain of Fools” (Written by Don Covay), single released 1967, Atlantic Records

Aretha Franklin: “Think,” from Aretha Now, 1968 Atlantic Records

Aretha Franklin: “Respect,” (Written by Otis Redding), from I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You), 1967 Atlantic Records 

Aretha Franklin: “(You Make Me Feel) Like A Natural Woman” (written by Gerry Goffin, Carol King, and Jerry Wexler), single released 1967, Atlantic Records

Note: the songwriter(s) will be cited if they are different from the performer, or if the song was co-written. In other words, if there is no songwriter credit, the song was written entirely by the performer.


Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi (2014): We Should All Be Feminists

Baldwin, James (1963): The Fire Next Time

Franklin, Aretha and Ritz, David (1999): Aretha: From These Roots

Friedan, Betty (1963, revised 1997): The Feminine Mystique

Gordy, Berry (1994): To Be Loved: The Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown

Guralnick, Peter (2014): Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom

May, Elaine Tyler (2010): America and the Pill: A History of Promise, Peril, and Liberation

Millett, Kate (1970, revised 2000): Sexual Politics

Prial, Dunstan (2006): The Producer: John Hammond and the Soul of American Music

Ritz, David (2014): Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin

Taraborrelli, Randy (2014): Diana Ross

Wexler, Jerry and Ritz, David (1993): Rhythm and the Blues: A Life in American Music

Some further notes on book sources: We lean on David Ritz pretty heavily. He wrote the Aretha biography, “Respect” in 2014; he also collaborated on both Jerry Wexler’s 1993 autobiography, “Rhythm and the Blues,” AND Aretha Franklin’s 1999 autobiography, “From These Roots.”

“Respect” got a lot of press, good and bad. Aretha slammed it, even threatened legal action. We read it carefully, cross-checked sources, and found it credible. Some in the press—especially in the UK—cherry-picked passages in “Respect,” and presented the book as a lurid hit job. It isn’t. “Respect” is a balanced, well-sourced book about a brilliant artist with a tumultuous, complicated personal life. The authorized bio, “From These Roots,” is edited-down marketing fluff.

As for Diana Ross, as we say in the show, it’s this weirdly mixed bag. Randy Taraborrelli’s book is a bit on the breathless worshipful side, but it’s well-sourced, so we went mostly with it. Berry Gordy’s book—like many of the autobiographies we’ve read—has its moments, but is notable also for what it leaves out. So be it.


Muscle Shoals, directed by Greg Camalier, 2013 Magnolia Pictures

Standing in the Shadows of Motown, directed by Paul Justman, 2002 Artisan Entertainment

Online Sources, By Topic in Order of Appearance

Columbia Records: http://www.columbiarecords.com/

Motown Records: http://www.motownrecords.com/

Archive of Billboard Pop and R&B Charts: http://www.song-database.com/charts.php

Diana Ross general biographies:



Alabama Governor George Wallace’s 1963 Inaugural Speech, retrieved from the State of Alabama Historical Archives YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_RC0EjsUbDU

1964 Civil Rights Act: https://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/civil-rights-act/

1965 Voting Rights Act: http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=100

1964 Election Results: http://uselectionatlas.org/RESULTS/national.php?year=1964

Political Realignment, Post-1964 (downloadable pdf from the Washington University School of Political Science):https://polisci.wustl.edu/files/polisci/imce/polstudiesmillerjune200392.pdf

Watts Riots, 1965, from the Civil Rights Digital Library:http://crdl.usg.edu/events/watts_riots/  

Rolling Stone’s Women Who Rock, 50 Essential Albums:http://www.rollingstone.com/music/lists/women-who-rock-the-50-greatest-albums-of-all-time-20120622

Aretha Franklin Musicology: 

Sound by John Michael Berry 

For more info please visit - http://www.milliondollarsmusic.com/

Errata and Corrections

Aretha Franklin’s father, Rev. Clarence LaVaughn Franklin (generally known as C.L. Franklin) is incorrectly identified in the show as “Cecil Franklin.” Cecil Franklin (1940-1989) was Aretha’s older brother. We regret the error.