God’s spirit enveloped the California African American Museum as Los Angeles came out for a gospel music tribute to the legendary Aretha Franklin on Aug. 30. The “Queen of Soul” passed away in Detroit, Michigan on Aug. 16.
The two-hour event, organized by L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and gospel music broadcaster Quaford Coleman, attracted more than 2,000 people who filled the museum’s interior and overflowed to hundreds outside the facility. In both places, the audience clapped, sang and shouted throughout the joyous celebration.
Highlighting the tribute were selected songs from Aretha’s “Amazing Grace” album, which she recorded in 1972 with the Rev. James Cleveland and the Southern California Community Choir in Los Angeles at New Testament Missionary Baptist Church. The two-album set sold more than 2 million copies, earned Aretha a Grammy award in 1973, and is the highest-selling live gospel album of all time.
In addition to Aretha’s gospel music roots, the tribute was also an acknowledgement of her social justice involvement. According to Ridley-Thomas, Aretha travels with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in support of his civil and voting rights campaigns illustrate her commitment to human rights.
“Aretha use her vocal chords to generate cash for social justice causes,” said Ridley-Thomas as he explained the occasion. “We honor her for her service to human rights and we pay tribute to her talent by listening to some selections of ‘Amazing Grace.’”
The program participants included KJLH broadcaster Aundrae Russell, host of “Spread the Word gospel music radio show; George Davis, executive director of CAAM; and Kristin Sakoda, executive director of the L.A. County Arts Commission. Also, Bishop Kenneth C. Ulmer, pastor of Faithful Central Baptist Church in Inglewood, shared a touching memory of the recording of “Amazing Grace,” which Ulmer witnessed.
Following an introduction by Coleman, the Southern California Community Alumni Choir and the Gospel Music Workshop of America – L.A. Chapter Choir delivered several heart-stirring selections from the album. The songs included “Amazing Grace,” “Mary Don’t You Weep,” “What A Friend,” “Precious Memories,” and “God Will Take of You.”
The Rev. Calvin Bernard Rhone, the Rev. Quincy Fielding, Jr., and Herman Jones provided masterful choir direction as well as exception keyboard accompaniment. The evening closed with a powerful benediction by the Rev. Gilbert “Gil” Fears, host of KPFK’s “Edna Tatum’s Gospel Classics.”
Expressing how much he enjoyed the concert, Pastor Kelvin T. Calloway of Bethel AME Church – L.A. said, “The Queen of Soul is a legend in her own right and started as most musicians in our community in the church. The church embraced her and allowed her to express her gifts at an early age. Her father (the Rev. C.L. Franklin) had a major influence on her life and he was one of the great pastors of our time.
“And just on a special note, my cousins are her nephews and so we honor her and celebrate her and spent many summers growing up with her children. We are in prayer for her family and we came to celebrate her!”