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Aretha: From These Roots

by Aretha Franklin with David Ritz

Villard, 254 pp., $25

With utmost respect and admiration for the Queen of Soul, this should have been a much better book. Aretha's larger-than-life (no jokes, please) 40-year career has placed her at the pinnacle of her achievement and she is, for all eternity, Soul Sister No.1. So what goes wrong here?

Aretha has a whole truckload of axes to grind and she systematically annihilates most of her contemporaries in a relatively slim volume. She comes out swinging, and Gladys Knight, Mavis Staples, Cissy Houston, Whitney Houston, Diana Ross, Natalie Cole, and Luther Vandross all wind up like mincemeat. Of Miss Knight, Aretha says, "I realize that Gladys has been under an extreme amount of pressure having to do with career disappointments. I truly am sympathetic and will pray for her." The pettiness (and cattiness) of these remarks doesn't jibe with Aretha's unquestionable and much-touted devotion to her religion, but it evidently takes a stronger faith than that to resist settling your scores in public when given the opportunity. Axe-grinding can be entertaining, but something a little more spiritual might be expected from the estimable Queen of Soul.

Miss Franklin, known as Ree to those closest to her, was raised by her father, Rev. C.J. Franklin, a celebrated orator. Surrounded by the powerful influences of gospel, jazz, and R&B, she and her sisters Erma and Carolyn performed early on, and Aretha continued to use her sisters as her backup -- and as songwriters -- throughout much of her career. Held together by their faith and the loss of their mother, they present, in many ways, the strength that can be gleaned from close family relationships.

On the other hand, most of the problems Ree seems to have with her aforementioned rivals seems to be based on allegedly false statements made by each of them in their own books about Ree's childhood and family background. Skip her dreary book and spend your money on her music instead.

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Aretha:From These Roots, Aretha Franklin, David Ritz

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