Chatting With Aretha Franklin About Change

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In 2008, Senator Barack Obama was elected President of the United States. He ran on a message of hope and change.

As a memento of his inauguration, Hidden Beach Recordings decided to put together a compilation of songs that expressed these messages. As the head of licensing at Warner Music Group, they approached me about licensing some recordings from our catalogue for inclusion thereon. I suggested Aretha Franklin’s version of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” They thought that was a great idea.

I wanted to be sure Ms. Franklin was fine with having her recording used on the album (this was before she and her hat appeared at the inauguration, so I wasn’t positive she was an Obama supporter). I told her attorney of my idea and a day or two later, Ms. Franklin called me. She liked my suggestion of having her recording included on this compilation. Unfortunately, there was a dispute about Warner’s rights to license the track so the song did not end up on the album, which came out under the title Change Is Now: Renewing America’s Promise.

In his on-line entertainment column, Roger Friedman, then of Fox News, wrote about the compilation, listing all of the artists whose songs were included. He wrote that Warner Music Group refused to make any deals for their artists to be included, which is untrue. I got permission from Wilco and Death Cab For Cutie to license tracks of theirs; they were among the artists Friedman listed just two paragraphs previously. He wrote “I’m sure, in fact, that Aretha Franklin has no idea that requests for a couple of her classic tracks like ‘A Change is Gonna Come’—were declined.” Patently untrue, as you can see from my story. It was a Warner employee’s idea (mine!) to include the track and Ms. Franklin was well aware of it. I guess, unlike me, Friedman couldn’t get Ms. Franklin on the phone. Too bad.

Today the Queen of Soul turns 72 years old. Here are twenty of her best recordings. I left out some classics such as “Respect,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” “Think” and “Freeway of Love” to make room for some lesser-played tracks, though you can hear those here, here, here and here. Enjoy!

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