Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
  2. TV & Radio
22 August 2018updated 03 Sep 2021 11:45am

Respecting Aretha: how Detroit public radio paid homage to a soul legend

Despite the shapelessness of much of her career, and her own personal pain, Franklin made everybody else sound like shouters.

By Antonia Quirke

“Due to legal issues we had to turn off the stream today. We’re not allowed to play this much of one artist continuously, otherwise we get ourselves into a whole world of hurt,” Ann Delisi, long-time presenter on Detroit’s public radio station, was determined to keep playing the just-deceased Aretha Franklin on a loop (16 August), despite guidelines. In the end she urged listeners; “Turn on your actual radio. Go to your radio. Take your lunch to your car…”

Whenever she asked people to call in with their thoughts about that most famous of local girls, Delisi would then start helplessly on another monologue about the singer herself. She set a few things straight. Not least the “news outlets currently delivering obits outside of Hitsville” on West Grand Boulevard, oblivious that Franklin “never signed to Motown! That was a giant, beautiful, incredible machine. But it wasn’t for everybody.”

Delisi played a very early recording of Aretha singing, aged 14 in 1956, in New Bethel Baptist Church, where her father was a preacher. “While the blood is running so warm in your veins/You had better get religion…” Clicking and scratching, it sounded like old vinyl the presenter had brought from home. You could tell from the opening seconds that nobody could touch this singer. The ease of the girl’s voice, the happiness and freedom. Despite the shapelessness of much of her career, and her own personal pain (she was a mother of two by 14) Aretha made everybody else sound like shouters. Listening to her it’s as though Ella Fitzgerald had been cooler and more of a natural genius, or Nina Simone hadn’t been so imprisoned in certain keys and doomed to dolorously sing 14-minute songs about all the troubles of the world. I love how Franklin gave that extra 10 per cent around two minutes into her songs; she always guaranteed a great outro.

“I’m gonna come over there and fix this issue,” murmured Delisi as the mixing disk faltered for the umpteenth time in the show (they seem to do everything themselves on the station) and you heard her pad committedly across the studio, weaving between piles of Aretha CDs, on an unstoppable, dogged-swooning Franklin roll.

CultureShift (WDET-FM)

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

THANK YOU

Content from our partners
How to create a responsible form of “buy now, pay later”
“Unions are helping improve conditions for drivers like me”
Transport is the core of levelling up