What made Aretha Franklin’s voice so special? A professional soprano explains

13 May 2019, 14:32 | Updated: 13 May 2019, 14:36

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

As rave reviews pour in for the new Aretha Franklin film Amazing Grace, we asked soprano Catherine Bott to explain what made Aretha Franklin’s voice so moving to listen to.

Last year, the legendary soul singer Aretha Franklin passed away aged 76. Now, the newly released film Amazing Grace gives us a window into the soul of the singer through never-before-seen footage from the recording of her album gospel-infused album Amazing Grace.

Her voice, which radiated both joy and pain, and demanded our R-E-S-P-E-C-T, was one of a kind – and here's exactly why.

Did you know Aretha Franklin once stepped in for Pavarotti… and sang Nessun Dorma?

From Aretha's incredible range – she could sing from G2 to E6, well over three octaves – to her no-nonsense attitude, it’s impossible not to be moved by her vocals.

Aretha recorded her Amazing Grace album in 1972 at a church in Los Angeles, and now for the first time, the footage of the two-day filming session in front of a live congregation has been shared with the world. She was already a global superstar at this point, but chose to ditch the high-tech recording studio for an authentic recording session with a gospel choir and live audience.

The film has already received rave reviews, and it's easy to see why. It gives us a goosebump-inducing window into a singer returning to her roots, the highlight of which is a ten-minute improvised version of ‘Amazing Grace’. Her performance is raw, and this is exactly what we love about the soul singer.

Soprano and Classic FM presenter Catherine Bott explains what is so special about her voice...

“My absolute favourite number from the Queen of Soul is also one of my favourite moments in the film The Blues Brothers when she makes it very clear who’s boss,” says Catherine Bott.

“She sings ‘You better think, think what you’re trying to do to me’, prodding compliance from the hapless men around her with a jabbing index finger and that no-nonsense voice.”

It’s hard to talk about Aretha without mentioning ‘Respect’, a song originally written by Otis Redding about a guy insisting on respect when he comes home from work, which Aretha turned into an unapologetic anthem for women.

She changed the lyrics to suit her message of empowerment, spelled the word out in the chorus and added the ‘sock it to me’ refrain with her sisters Carolyn and Erma backing her up.

“I’m not sure whether it would have been much fun to share a stage with her,” Catherine says, “But I have to agree with Otis Redding that she turned it into an anthem for an age. He said: ‘this girl, she just took this song’.”