As a kid, I didn’t spend every Sunday in church. But I went enough have the culture ingrained in my soul, my psyche. My favorite part of church was the choir. In fact, that’s all I was in it for because I never understood what the sweaty loud man at the podium was talking about. I wanted to hear the beautiful and powerful voices of the choir. So naturally, when the Amazing Grace documentary was released I had to go see it.
I bought my proverbial movie snacks: Raisinets, soda, and a big tub of popcorn. Shout out to the Laemmle Town Center 5 theatre for using real butter. I thought only ArcLight theatre did that. I sat down, started grubbin’ on my snacks and was immediately transported back to those Sunday mornings in the church house. At the first sound of the band and choir, my foot went to tappin’ and my head went to noddin’. Soon after SHE graced us with her regal presence dripping with soul sistah glamour in her flowing gown and regal afro.
Then it happened. She opened her mouth and out came that angelic voice we all know and love. Had my mother been sitting next to me she would have shouted the phrase she always said during my childhood when she played an Aretha Franklin album, “Sing it Rhee!” Aretha started with “Wholy Holy,” originally written and sung by the legendary Marvin Gaye; if you know me, my favorite male singer of all time. But oh, did Aretha make that song her own or what? She injected so much soul into that song that I thought Jesus was about to come sit next to me and help himself to some of my popcorn.
After about three songs, my writer/producer Spidey senses started kicking in. Where are the talking heads? Where are the interviews by the people who were there? Where’s the b-roll footage? Why did Aretha choose to sing “Precious Lord” instead of “Goin’ Up Yonder?” The 10 out of 10 stars I had prematurely given the film started slipping to an 8. I thought, why would they do this? That 8 quickly jumped back to a 10 after, Aretha’s father, Reverend C.L. Franklin took to the podium and praised his baby girl for her powerhouse vocals. He spoke of a six year old Aretha who sang her heart out in the family living room. He told the story of how a woman told him she thought Aretha’s performance of secular music on a television show was just okay, but wished she would come back to the church. He politely corrected the lady by letting her know that Aretha never left the church. See. Judge not, that ye be not judged (Matthew 7:1). Mind your business lady.
After that, my pesky writer/producer Spidey senses vanished. I forgave the sound synching problems, the out of focus shots, and absent interviewees. I realized those things were a reflection of the church and Aretha’s voice: organic, raw, and powerful. All that was needed was her gushing father and her heavenly voice. Those two elements alone got the job done. They did what a film is supposed to do which is to evoke emotions. I reminisced about sitting in the church pews dressed in frilly dresses, tights, and black patent leather Mary Janes. Chills ran through my body when Aretha hit that note. I laughed at Reverend James Cleveland’s side comments. And when Aretha brought down the house with “Never Grow Old,” tears streamed down my cheeks. Wow, the power of her voice! Ms. Franklin was and still is a national treasure with a voice gifted from God.
10 out of 10 🌟s