Aretha, The Sweet Inspirations and more!

Let's look at a few new and soon-to-be-released projects you won't want to miss!

First, I’d like to thank all of you for the tremendous response to last week’s feature on Reba Rambo. It is, without question, the most read and most shared piece here thus far. Being a part of the team that facilitated the re-release of her Grammy-nominated 1982 classic, Lady Live, on Friday was a thrill. If you haven’t streamed or downloaded it, you can find links to your preferred digital store here.

As I’m in the middle of a few comprehensive essays, I wanted to take the opportunity to point you to some important projects (a few of which I’m connected to) that are either newly released or on their way out.


Released this past Friday was a four-disc, career-wide retrospective on The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. Beginning with two live recordings from 1956 at her father’s church in Detroit and ending with her 2015 performance at the Kennedy Center Honors, the appropriately titled Aretha provides more than just the “key” performances from her illustrious career. The “essential” tunes are offset by previously unreleased recordings, live performances, work tapes, and demos that give a unique view into her process of arranging, digesting and settling into a song. The set includes two dynamic essays: one by Rochelle Riley, an author and the Director of Arts and Culture for the City of Detroit; the other by David Nathan (who also co-produced the package), the official Arethacologist who has interviewed Ms. Franklin more than any other living writer and has unearthed so many unreleased treasures from the vaults for us listeners through the years. The packaging is exquisite and the four discs play with such continuity that I find it ends sooner than I’d like—so I just play it again. Click here to purchase.

The Sweet Inspirations

A conversation about Aretha can only lead to discussion of The Sweet Inspirations. Cissy Houston, Estelle Brown, Sylvia Shemwell and Myrna Smith made up the group that arranged and performed background vocals on countless recordings for a wide range of artists—from Wilson Pickett to Yusef Lateef to Jimi Hendrix to Elvis Presley and, of course, The Queen of Soul.

Soul Music Records/Cherry Red Records has put the group’s complete Atlantic Records catalog into a 3-CD boxset—inclusive of eight tracks recorded with Ann Williams (who replaced Cissy Houston) in 1970 that were never released as a full-length album. I am incredibly honored to have been asked to write an essay for this package. I interviewed Estelle Brown and did extensive research to paint as vivid a picture as possible of not only the quantity but the quality of the work of women who were undoubtedly singer’s singers. The set releases in the United States on September 24th. Click here to pre-order.

Ruth Davis of The Davis Sisters

And it would be impossible to talk about The Sweet Inspirations without mentioning Ruth Davis of The Davis Sisters, one of Estelle Brown’s primary influences (which I write about in the liner notes for the box set!). I was so happy to see Malaco Music Group reissuing the Davis Sisters discography over the last few years. They completed that discography this past week with In Memory of Ruth Davis, a compilation Savoy Records produced in 1970 after Ruth’s passing. It includes the rare Savoy version of her cover of Alex Bradford’s “Too Close,” which, to my knowledge, had not been issued prior to this release (I’m aware of the Gotham version which is not the same). I encourage you to pick up In Memory of Ruth Davis from your preferred digital music store and dig into this quintessential voice.

Dottie Rambo - It’s the Soul of Me

This Grammy-winning project was originally released in 1968 and was briefly available in the digital stores a decade ago. Freshly remastered from the original master tapes by Greg Hand, it was re-released this past Friday. It’s The Soul Of Me is said, by Billboard, to have been the first racially integrated recording session in southern gospel history. It caused quite a controversy at the time, resulting in death threats against the Rambo family by the Ku Klux Klan. To read the full press release that came from my pen, click here.

Dottie remained a presence in Black gospel music after It’s The Soul of Me. Her “I Go To the Rock” was first recorded by Danniebelle Hall in 1977 on her Live in Sweden album, then again, most famously, by Whitney Houston in 1996 for The Preacher’s Wife soundtrack. “He Looked Beyond My Fault (And Saw My Need),” a career record for The Rambos, re-emerged in 1983 when Vanessa Bell Armstrong recorded it on her breakthrough Peace Be Still album. “We Shall Behold Him,” a Rambo composition originally recorded by Sandi Patty in 1981, became the first single for Vickie Winans in 1987.

Don’t miss this week’s #SundayMorningMusic playlist which features some of the artist’s highlighted in this week’s post!

For new subscribers, some features you may have missed:
“I Don’t Wanna Be a Soldier: How did Teri DeSario’s anti-imperialist message make it’s way into Contemporary Christian Music?” Click here to read.

“Unguarding Amy Grant: Reexamining the unprecedented album that put Amy Grant alongside Madonna, Huey Lewis, and Duran Duran in the pop zeitgeist” Click here to read.

“Dance, Children, Dance: This choir's gospel of inclusion caused an uproar when they took their message beyond the church and into the discos.” Click here to read.

“New Time Religion: The Holy Ghost Falls Down In The Club: Reclaiming Tramaine Hawkins’ mainstreamed gospel.” Click here to read.

Thumbnail Photo Credit (of Aretha & The Sweet Inspirations): The Sweet Inspirations on Instagram