Ev­ery year our col­leagues on the Ob­server pro­duce a won­der­ful trib­ute to the peo­ple we lost in the pre­ced­ing year.

Some of the most im­por­tant voices the world lost this year – re­mem­bered by those who knew them best

The Guardian Weekly - - Inside - Clive Davis was pres­i­dent of Columbia Records and founder and pres­i­dent of Arista Records

This year’s in­cludes mem­o­ries of Aretha Franklin by Arista founder Clive Davis and of Stephen Hawk­ing by his re­search stu­dent Bernard Carr. You can read those pieces as well as trib­utes to An­thony Bour­dain, Kofi An­nan, Ur­sula K Le Guin and Tom Wolfe. Then, we round off our end-of-year spe­cial with the Guardian crit­ics’ picks of the best film, art, TV and pop al­bums.

I’ve never been more grate­ful for the op­por­tu­nity to work than with Aretha Franklin. When we first met in the late 1970s, I felt I’d al­ready known her for years. Her At­lantic Records ca­reer in the late 1960s, with Jerry Wexler, was just fan­tas­tic – so many hits, but more im­por­tantly, so many clas­sic songs [in­clud­ing I Say a Lit­tle Prayer, Think, Chain of Fools]. They had some­thing dif­fer­ent about them, and they de­fined the genre of R&B. By the late 70s, the things Aretha was do­ing were some­what trendy, and they failed. She got rest­less. So she called me up and said: “How about we get to­gether? Come to mine. I’ll cook you din­ner.” That’s how she was.

I was at Arista [the la­bel Davis founded in 1974], try­ing to broaden its reach. I’d done rock with Ja­nis Joplin, Bruce Spring­steen and Billy Joel, and it wasn’t my in­ten­tion to come up with a new Re­spect. But I liked the idea of work­ing with some­one as for­mi­da­ble as Aretha, and as a singer, I knew no one could beat her. I also knew ab­so­lutely that she should still be rel­e­vant. And there she was at her house, down to earth, say­ing: “I know the dif­fer­ence th­ese days, Clive. I’m ap­proach­ing 40. I don’t have hits any more. I want hits.” It was a chal­lenge be­cause that was new ter­ri­tory then. But she had this strength, plus this in­cred­i­ble in­stru­ment – and she did it.

Aretha was re­ally can­did, with a great sense of hu­mour, and I be­came her con­fi­dant. We spent so many nights at some of New York’s best res­tau­rants – she loved fine din­ing, though she also loved her soul food and short­breads. She was very much at home be­ing a home­body. Although there was an­other side of her: she very much knew she was the “queen of soul”. Not in an of­fen­sive way, but no one could pre­tend to be like her. You’d see peo­ple meet­ing her – even pres­i­dents – and they’d be­have like dis­ci­ples. Only Dy­lan and the Bea­tles, to my mind, be­longed in that same rar­efied cat­e­gory as her.

Aretha was very aware po­lit­i­cally, her whole life. I re­mem­ber go­ing with her to Bill Clin­ton’s in­au­gu­ra­tion in 1993, af­ter dis­cussing which song might be ap­pro­pri­ate for her to sing. She chose I Dreamed a Dream from Les Mis­érables, but built into it Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech. Re­mem­ber­ing her vo­cal ge­nius de­liv­er­ing those words now, send­ing chills through every­body in the au­di­ence … no artist I’ve worked with gave me the feel­ing she did.

She was singing so beau­ti­fully to the end. Her per­for­mance of (You Make Me Feel Like) A Nat­u­ral Woman at the Ca­role King con­cert in 2016 was un­for­get­table – the cur­tains open­ing, and this woman full of life, in her long fur coat, then sit­ting down to play the pi­ano. The way she builds the song, tak­ing it higher and higher, the au­di­ence stand­ing cheer­ing her on, Barack Obama shed­ding a tear. You won’t be­lieve this is a woman two years away from her pass­ing.

The last time I saw her was the night af­ter I last saw her play at the 25th an­niver­sary gala for the El­ton John Aids Foun­da­tion [in Novem­ber 2017]. We were all shocked at the weight she had lost, but she made no men­tion of it – this was a show, in her eyes, nine or 10 songs, and not a to­ken per­for­mance. And still as­ton­ish­ing. We went to her favourite restau­rant a night later, and I talked to her about a trib­ute con­cert to her that I’d been asked to put to­gether, fea­tur­ing younger artists, and she was thrilled. I never thought it would be a memo­rial. How unique she was.

‘You’d see peo­ple meet­ing her and they would be­have like dis­ci­ples’

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.