Some of the most notable recordings by Aretha Franklin are from 1968, when she rehearsed the song Ain’t No Way, written by Carolyn, her youngest sister.
The session is clearly controlled by Carolyn, who looks petite and tomboyish: she anchors the beat with a church clap and teaches the melody to her sister, while Aretha lays down the chords on the piano. Aretha seems meek, almost shy, to the woman who so vehemently requested respect.
Yet it was Aretha who later became the Queen of Soul and whose story is told in the film biopic ‘Respect’ this year, while Carolyn has been largely ignored and is known only for a few songwriting accomplishments, if at all. Her story of missed opportunities, hidden identity and fantastic achievements is her life and career as a songwriter, backup singer and solo artist, though brief. Carolyn Ann Franklin was the fourth and last child of Barbara and Rev. Clarence LaVaughan (CL) Franklin, born in Memphis in 1944, who was revered for his mixture of religious zeal and civil rights rhetoric and would continue to lead the New Bethel Baptist Church congregation in Detroit after a stint in Buffalo.
Carolyn was only four years old when her mother returned to Buffalo, distraught over her husband’s infidelity.
In 1952, Barbara died of a heart attack; Carolyn, her sisters Erma and Aretha, and Cecil, her brother, were mainly raised by their father. As with many soul singers, the black church was deeply rooted in the musical DNA of Carolyn, and she grew up in the choir of New Bethel.
But other varieties of black music were also exposed to the Franklin children: gospel, jazz and blues musicians met at the Franklin mansion at 7415 La Salle Boulevard, including Clara Ward, Dinah Washington and BB King.
“She came up to me one day and said, ‘Hey Mary, I hear you’re a really good singer,'”One day she came up to me and said, ‘Hey Mary, I hear you’re a really good singer,’ says Mary Wilson. As part of Detroit’s racial integration policy, they became friends while riding the bus to their school, which was in a predominantly white neighborhood. In the Supremes, Carolyn was a bit like Florence Ballard: she was a very down-to-earth black girl: very streetwise, very friendly, very funny, very athletic, and she was always the leader. I was very impressed when I found out she actually wrote some of the songs for Aretha.”Carolyn was a little bit like Florence Ballard in the Supremes: she was a very down-to-earth black girl: very streetwise, very personable, very funny, very athletic, and she was always the leader. When I found out that she actually wrote some of the songs for Aretha, I was very impressed.”
Under the pseudonym Candy Carroll, she recorded a handful of songs but had no success.
In the late 1960s, she returned to Detroit, worked at the post office and wrote side-by-side songs, building a close relationship with fellow soul singer Bettye LaVette. “We became instant friends,” says LaVette. “We looked very similar, we were the same size, and we both acted very boyish.”We looked very similar, we were the same size, and we both acted very boyish. “Erma was very demure; Aretha was very Baptist; Carolyn was very neighborly,” she says. “Carolyn soon became closely involved in Aretha’s career.
After signing with Atlantic Records following several unsuccessful years at Columbia, Aretha turned to her sisters for gospel-inspired vocal arrangements.
Carolyn and Erma helped Aretha rework Otis Redding’s “Respect” from an outburst of pent-up male frustration into an anthem that would sum up the demands of the women’s and civil rights movements. They also sang background vocals on future Aretha hits like Baby I Love You, (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman and Day Dreaming.
Carolyn wrote the blues ballad Baby, Baby, Baby and the jaunty Ain’t Nobody (Gonna Turn Me Around) for Aretha’s first two Atlantic albums.Ain’t No Way elevated her songwriting to a higher level. The song is a bluesy lament and a plea for emotional reciprocity (“It ain’t no way for me to give you all you need / If you won’t let me give all of me”).
Carolyn’s lyrics are housed in a stunning arrangement with gospel-accented piano and gliding tenor saxophone.
It may be soul music’s most beautiful ballad. “Everyone who heard it wanted to record it, of course,” LaVette says – she asked Carolyn if she could record Ain’t No Way before it was passed on to Aretha.The song, in light of Carolyn’s sexuality, has