Aretha Franklin wasn’t only the Queen of Soul. She was part of a legendary legacy which raised racial consciousness through that old time religion. One of the most spiritual performers on stage, her voice and her piano were possessed of the gift of happy telepathy, even on the saddest of songs. Her live gospel album from 1972 Amazing Grace, revealed the holy spirit of soul music. It is the highest-selling gospel album of all time. The long-suppressed documentary the concert, Amazing Grace gets a nationwide release on April 5th, 2019.
Filmmaker Sydney Pollack caught Aretha performing the live album Amazing Grace. She played The New Bethel Baptist Church in Watts, Los Angeles backed by the Reverend James Cleveland and the Southern California Community Choir, along with some Atlantic Records musicians, for two nights in January 1972. Even nonbelievers and casual listeners might find themselves checking for signs of the rapture, because Aretha is a honest singer. When you hear her sing, you know she means what she says. She believes. Aretha was 29 years old when she hit the mic with that voice.
The documentary presenting the live recording of Aretha Franklin’s album Amazing Grace had been kept under wraps by Franklin herself. She never made a public comment explaining it, she just didn’t see It as releasable. Maybe she preferred people conjuring their own images while listening to the album. She publicly praised the film, saying she loved it, but the film was scrapped for 46 years.
Amazing Grace was scheduled to debut in 2015 at Telluride and Toronto festivals but Franklin got an injunction against it. The Franklin estate and producer Alan Elliott, who bought the uncompleted footage from Warner Bros., reached an agreement on releasing the film after after Franklin’s death in August, 2018. It could be Elliott fixed the sound to what the family believed would please Aretha’s ears, bringing in engineer Jimmy Douglass, for the stereo and 5.1 mixes. Douglass, who put together Jay-Z’s album 4:44, worked on the mix for the original Amazing Grace album. It was one of his first jobs.
Amazing Grace screened at the DOC NYC festival and had a short run in Los Angeles and New York for Academy qualification.
George Harrison’s Concert for Bangla Desh didn’t get a Oscar but it is still a joyful film of a great night, with many of the performers doing devotional music. Amazing Grace will probably join the ranks of classic live music motion pictures. Mel Stuart’s Wattstax, which brought the Staple Singers, Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas, Isaac Hayes to the stage; Prince: Sign O’ the Times which caught the artist live and blistering in 1987, Beastie Boys – ‘Awesome; I Fucking Shot That!, Led Zeppelin’s Madison Square Garden flick The Song Remains The Same, Martin Scorsese’s thanksgiving dinner with The Band, and lots and lots of friend, The Last Waltz; Jonathan Demme’s off the rack Talking Heads movie Stop Making Sense; and Monterey Pop Festival from D.A. Penebaker, which caught Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, Booker T. & the MGs and The Who.
Produced and realized by Alan Elliott, the film is coming out from Neon (I, Tonya, Vox Lux).
Amazing Grace gets a nationwide release on April 5th, 2019.
Culture Editor Tony Sokol cut his teeth on the wire services and also wrote and produced New York City’s Vampyr Theatre and the rock opera AssassiNation: We Killed JFK. Read more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.