Publisher: Skyhorse Date: Copyright 1989, 2001, 2012 by Mark Bego
The black neighborhoods of Detroit, in the 1950s and 1960s, were teeming with teenaged musical talent: Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Otis Williams and others. Most passed through the doors of the 4,500 seat New Bethel Baptist Church, pastored by the "flashy bon vivant" Reverend C.L. Franklin. He merited mention in Time magazine. In the decades leading up to the 1950s, more blacks from the South had poured into Detroit.
While Aretha was discovering her vocal capacities on the altar of the New Bethel Baptist Church, the surrounding Detroit neighborhood was humming with music of all sorts. Otis Williams recalls hearing wonderful things about that little Franklin girl who had people in awe of her voice when she sang on Sundays. In 1964, Williams became world-famous as one of the Temptations.
According to Smokey Robinson: 'When Aretha was a child she could go to the piano, and play-nearly like she plays now! None of the rest of us could just go sit down and play the piano and sing like that."
Aretha remembers all of these singing stars as kids in the neighborhood with little more than their dreams and their vocal talent. "I didn't really know Diana," she reminisces. On my way home, I would see her from time to time. She was screaming off the back porch one night at somebody, and I said, "Oh, that's that Diane Ross girl." Smokey and our families, had been friends going back till I was nine, ten years old. Smokey would come over with his group, The Miracles, to rehearse.
"Music industry executive Billy Davis distinctly remembers that era in Detroit. 'In hindsight, there certainly was a lot of young talent who was inspired by each other,' he recalls, 'and inspired by groups like the Dominoes, the Four Buddies, Ruth Brown, the Ravens, and groups who gained their popularity in the mid-fifties. Independent record labels began to spring up, because all this talent was there.
"Before Motown Records was founded, and made million-selling stars out of the Miracles, the Supremes, and the Temptations, the local musical marvel was clearly Aretha Franklin. Don Davis, who grew up to own a recording studio in Detroit called United Sound ... remembers those days, when all eyes were on teenage Aretha.