(9 of 10)
Blue-Eyed Soul. Does this mean that white musicians by definition don't have soul? A very few Negroes will concede that such white singers as Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee have it, and Aretha also nominates Frenchman Charles Aznavour. A few more will accept such blues-oriented whites as the Righteous Brothers, Paul Butterfield, and England's Stevie Winwood—largely because their sound is almost indistinguishable from Negro performers'. But for the most part, Negroes leave it up to whites to defend the idea of "blue-eyed soul," whether by the criterion of talent, experience or temperament. Janis Joplin argues it this way: "There's no patent on it. It's just feeling things. A housewife in Nebraska has soul, but she represses it, makes it conform to a lot of rules like marriage, or sugarcoats it."
If the earnest racial jockeying can be suspended, the question of who has soul actually becomes intriguing, if rather fanciful fun. The very elusiveness of the soul concept invites a freewheeling, parlor-game approach. Not long ago, in an eleven-page feature on the soul mystique, Esquire half seriously argued that there are only two kinds of people in the world: the haves and the havenots—soul-wise. Others have taken up the sport, which prompts the engaging notion that important personalities of history and legend can be classed in these terms (see box).
As for those to whom soul is anything but a parlor game, one thing is certain: the closer a Negro gets to a "white" sound nowadays, the less soulful he is considered to be, and the more he is regarded as having betrayed his heritage. Dionne Warwick singing Alfie? Impure! Diana Ross and the Supremes recording an album of Rodgers and Hart songs? Unacceptable! Yet many "deviations" may be solid professionalism, a matter of adapting to changing audiences. As Lou Rawls says, "Show business is so vast—why should I limit myself to any one aspect if I have the capabilities to do more?"
On the other hand, some soul singers are so deeply imbued with the enduring streams of blues and gospel, so consumed by those primal currents of racial experience and emotion, that they could never be anything but soulful. Aretha Franklin is one of them. No matter what she sings, Aretha will never go white, and that certainty is as gratifying to her white fans as to her Negro ones.
Going Home. The depth of Aretha's fidelity to her own heritage can be heard on an occasional Sunday night when she is in Detroit. Just as she did a dozen years ago, she goes to her father's services to sing a solo. She was there one recent evening, standing somewhat apart at first, a little dressy in mink-trimmed pink, preoccupied and somber. A drenching rain was falling outside, but 1,000 parishioners had shown up: Aretha was back.
She decided to sing the gospel song Precious Lord. The words, as the congregation knew them, were straightforward and simple:
Precious Lord, take my hand,
Lead me on, let me stand.
I get tired,
I get weak and worn.
Hear my cry,
Hear my call,
Hold my hand,
Lest I fall.
Take my hand,
Lead me on.