Written by Marvin Rashad
Recently, Aretha Franklin’s estate released the long anticipated of the documentary of her recording the 1972 live album ‘Amazing Grace.’ The documentary was originally slated for a summer 1972 to accompany the album, but was delayed initially due to synchronization issues, then later a legal battle between Aretha and producers who wanted to release the film. After years of legal battle, the family finally agreed to release the documentary, premiering at the Doc NY in November 2018, elsewhere in the US April 5, 2018 and in the UK May 10, 2019. While I wish The Queen of Soul herself gave the green life, I am pleased to have witnessed this film.
As stated, this is a documentary of her 1972 live Gospel album, recorded at New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles, California. The album remains to be Aretha’s best selling of her entire career and also the highest selling of any live gospel album. The album also earned her a 1973 Grammy Award for Soul/Gospel Performance.
Watching this film does way more justice than sitting back and listening to the album, Much like Beyoncé’s ‘Homecoming’ Netflix special, ‘Amazing Grace’ gives viewers a few more behind the scenes in-depth looks at Franklin producing her vocals and rehearsing the material, showing off the craftsmanship it takes to be a stellar performer she was. You also see the work of Gospel legend Rev. James Cleveland with the Southern California Community Choir.
One of the best things about the film was watching people’s reactions in the audience to Aretha & the choirs singing. Now, if you grew up in the black church you already know what to expect; singing along, on-beat clapping and stomping, call & response, shouting and holy ghosting. In addition to all of that, you can feel the SOUL jump out of Aretha and the choir as they sing, and the people’s response to it wasn’t purely of fandom or admiration, but of the feeling it invoked through their spiritual singing. Aretha’s father showed pride for her daughter in the audience member as her biggest fan. He also went to the pulpit to speak about his daughter and how proud of her he was, and how she never left the church.
I would have to say the standout performances in this film would have to be the medley of “Precious Lord, Take My Hand/You’ve Got a Friend,” “Precious Memories,” and “Never Grow Old,” but the truth of the matter is the entire movie is a standout. If you are a fan of Aretha Franklin, R&B, Gospel, Soul, live music performance, music and anything black you have to see this Spike Lee produced film before it’s no longer in theaters.
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