by Pat BroeskeOctober, 1999
One of the great enigmas of the music world is at last telling her story at least those parts she wants us to know. Widely publicized at the time it was announced, Aretha: From These Roots is actually more tantalizing than tell-all. Yet if it doesn't deliver a full portrait of one of this era's divas, it offers enough intriguing glimpses of Aretha Franklin to make the read worthwhile and eye-opening.
She is certainly a dichotomy. There is the Aretha who loves staying home where she cooks, crochets, and delights in gardening. The devoted soap opera fan also remains faithful to her favorite teenage movie, the tear-jerking A Summer Place, which starred Sandra Dee. Why, after she found her own fame, Franklin even had a gown designed by the great Jean Louis who'd created wardrobes for Miss Dee.
Which leads us to the other Aretha. Superstars are a special breed, emboldened by ego as well as talent. They also like to control their press. Franklin is determined to put an end to the oft-reported story that her mother abandoned the family. And she rebuffs unflattering tales told elsewhere by Cissy Houston and Gladys Knight. She also emphasizes the significance of her father, Reverend C.L. Franklin. He certainly was understanding. In defiance of the day's conventions, Franklin became an unwed mother at 14 and again at 17. Her father, she stresses, remained supportive.
Though she doesn't always name names, Franklin details a hearty appetite for men. There are flirtations with Sam Cooke, a relationship with Temptations member Dennis Edwards, a romance (and yet another child) with a black entrepreneur, and several failed marriages. She likewise recounts her romance with food including where and when she was introduced to the BLT and Russian dressing.
And yes, she charts her extraordinary career and the soul sound that became a career signature. This book may not give us all the answers, but there is no question that it puts us in the company of a regal presence. Aretha is, after all, the undisputed Queen of Soul.