It’s been one year since we lost the irreplaceable, Aretha Franklin. Given the legendary singer’s legacy of iconic hits, including "Respect," "Chain of Fools" and "Natural Woman," it's easy to forget how many boundaries she had to break to get where she got. Her incomparable voice could turn a good song into a great one, but really, that was just the beginning of her immeasurable talent.
The story behind "I Say a Little Prayer," showcases the superhuman ability Aretha had to make songs better than they were originally conceived. Blessed with arguably the greatest singing voice in the history of recorded music, Franklin’s effortless, elegant delivery shines thanks to her own carefully crafted arrangement; transforming the song into an emotional roller coaster that climbs and yearns and builds. In short, Franklin sings the song as though it was a dress designed just for her.
“Say A Little Prayer” | Live 1970
"I Say a Little Prayer" was not initially intended for Franklin at all. Dionne Warwick had already released the song as a single in 1967, but a year later when Franklin, her background singers and one of the original songwriters, Burt Bacharach, were working on Franklin's 1968 album, Aretha Now, when they began to have a little fun with recent hits during rehearsals.
"No matter that “I Say a Little Prayer” was a Top 5 hit just six months earlier, Aretha had only to open her mouth in a recording studio and the song became hers," Serene Dominic wrote in Burt Bacharach: Song By Song.
The minute producer, Jerry Wexler heard Franklin and the Sweet Inspirations’ (which included Cissy Houston, Whitney’s mother and Dionne Warwick’s aunt) vocals on the track he ushered them into the studio with the musicians and recorded the hit song in one take. It was the sonic opposite of Warwick’s smooth, lounge-y version. Franklin’s bombastic take on the song leads from the heart as her seamless vocal dances playfully with the backing vocals, creating a captivating balance of vulnerability that leaves you hanging on her every word.
“I Say A Little Prayer” became Aretha’s ninth consecutive Top 10 hit. For the notoriously ambitious Franklin, it probably stung a little that Warwick’s version charted slightly higher but was undoubtedly sweetened when Burt Bacharach declared her version better than the original, technically making it a win-win.
Expertly walking a tightrope of power and elegance, Aretha Franklin forever transformed the world around her with courage, grace, a magical voice and boundless soul. Celebrate the Queen of Soul with our I Like: Aretha Franklin playlist on Spotify:
Listen to all the Aretha Franklin Essentials on Apple Music: