Aretha Franklin has simply been one of the greatest singers of the modern generation, and whether bringing her powerful, passionate voice to bear on gospel standards, songs from the Great American Songbook, jazz standards, pop ditties, or deep Southern soul and R&B, she has always had the presence -- much like Ray Charles -- to make anything she touches unmistakably hers. Franklin began her career in gospel when she was still a teenager, and her amazing vocal talents, coupled with her fine piano playing, marked her as a once-in-a-lifetime kind of artist, qualities very apparent to legendary talent scout John Hammond, who signed her to Columbia Records. The problem Hammond and Columbia immediately ran into, though, was how to best present that spirited voice to the secular pop world. Columbia tried Franklin in a variety of styles and settings, but none of them exactly caught fire with the public -- that didn't happen until after the singer had moved on to Atlantic Records and an inspired pairing with producer Jerry Wexler, who brought out Franklin's deep soul roots by putting her in front of the Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section. The hits came pouring out, including "Chain of Fools," "Respect," "Spanish Harlem," and several other iconic classics, all of which are featured in this 60-track playlist drawn from Franklin's productive stay at Atlantic. Heard together like this, they form the heart and soul of her impressive legacy.
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