(10 of 10)
As the first mellow chords rippled from the organ and piano, Aretha stepped out of the robed choir that was massed on tiers behind the altar. Moving in front of a lectern, she closed her eyes and sang: "Precious Lord, take my hand ..." The congregation nodded or swayed gently in their seats. "Sing it!" they cried, clapping hands. "Amen, amen!" Her melodic lines curved out in steadily rising arcs as she let her spirit dictate variations on the lyrics, finally straining upward in pure soul:
Please! Please! Please! Hear my call, 'Cause I'm gonna need you to hold on to my hand,
And I'm gonna need my friends right now 'cause I might fall. . .
"All right!" answered the congregation. She was with them now. Her voice spiraled down to a breathy whisper, then broke into intense, halting phrases as she almost talked to the end:
You know what's happening . . . and it's bad times right now;
Just lead us, just lead us, lead us on—We've got to get home.
Afterward, spent and exalted, Lady Soul said something that nobody in the church that night needed to be told: "My heart is still there in gospel music. It never left."
* "Sock it to me," one of Aretha's variations on "whip it," is another in the long list of sexual terms from blues or jazz that have passed into respectable everyday language. Having come to prominence through such recordings as Aretha's and Mitch Ryder's, "Sock it to me" is now used in a neutral sense as a catch-phrase on TV's Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In and is a common sight on bumper stickers and even political placards. Jazz (originally a copulative verb) and rock 'n' roll (from a blues lyric, "My baby rocks me with a steady roll") are other examples.