Category Archives: Book Reviews

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 79: Respect-The Life of Aretha Franklin by David Ritz

Sometimes after reading one book will make you want another book with a similar topic. My previous review was a fictional music documentary in a novel titled The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton. Opal Jewel was one half of a groundbreaking punk rock duo from the early 1970s that nearly made into superstardom.  However, Opal’s diva behavior and Nev’s self-destructive tendencies kept the duo from reaching their full musical potential. The book portrayed Opal as a diva, and her character kept me reading this excellent debut novel. Immediately after finishing it, I wanted to read a book about a real-life diva and came across Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin by David Ritz.  Ritz had written several musical biographies, the best known was Divided Soul about Marvin Gaye.

I had to admit that I knew little of about Aretha Franklin outside of her most popular songs like Respect (an Otis Redding song), Chain of Fools, Rock Steady, & I Say a Little Prayer (my favorite of her songs). In reading Respect, I learned Aretha was a musical genius.  Unfortunately, we as a society don’t give women the genius label often. Of course, there was the obvious reason of sexism behind it.  And that was a shame. If a human being (man or woman) was worthy of such a label, then we should give it without hesitation.  Aretha Franklin deserved to be called a musical genius without a doubt.

I know that most biography readers want to read about that famous person or artist’s personal life.  Who were they behind their gift and matched their public persona?  Well, I did not want to read Respect for those reasons at all. I’m fascinated by human creativity and how an artist creates their art.  Those elements of Respect were much more interesting than Aretha’s tumultuous personal life.  I have to admit that tumultuous was the exact adjective to describe Aretha’s life outside of music.

I will mention that she was a teen mother with two boys before the age of eighteen, went through two failed marriages, had a fear of flying, and rocky relationships with everyone close to her, including her talented sisters, Erma & Carolyn.  However, she was a daddy’s girl and her father, Reverend C.L. Franklin, had a major influence throughout her life. All of those stories were throughout the book, and there was plenty of meat to chew on for those who are interested in those details.

This quote near the book by songwriter-producer Gordon Chambers got my attention:

“When I arrived at her home studio in Detroit, she was at the piano practicing. I discovered that she not only learns the song by listening to the tapes, but she actually works out the song on piano. That’s how she’s able to Aretha-ize it. In her golden era, she may have sung more full-out from her chest and was now singing more from her head, but she knew how to make that adjustment flawlessly.”

Aretha was a singer’s singer and musician’s musician.  She was probably the greatest interpreter of songs that America has ever produced. She did not know how to read or write music.  But, she could transform any song from gospel to jazz to R&B to Opera and make it her own.  That was pure genius, and I wanted to know more about that than the previously mentioned personal life stuff.

Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin is an excellent music biography of a complex musical genius.  The book shows her flaws and resilient nature in detail.  I have always thought that Whitney Houston was the greatest singing talent I’ve heard in my lifetime.  I had to reassess that declaration after reading this book and listening to Aretha’s music (especially her jazz material) over the past few days. Her rendition of the classic tune, Skylark made me stop what I was doing the other day and just listen her voice command the song.  She was special and an American musical treasure. I’m glad that I read this biography.  Rest in Love, Aretha!

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 78: The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton

“The easiest thing in the world is to be yourself. The hardest thing in the world is to be yourself.” Those two sentences were appropriate for one of the two major characters, Opal Jewel, in Dawnie Walton’s excellent debut novel, The Final Revival of Opal & Nev. Walton told the story of the early 1970s… Continue Reading

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 76: Mama Day by Gloria Naylor

I have always been more of a backlist reader than a new release reader.  There are so many books published, and it is impossible to keep up as a reader.  However, on social media and throughout the publishing world, the new release books especially in fiction are celebrated and promoted.  I totally get it.  There… Continue Reading

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 72: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

  If your spouse was wrongly accused of rape and went to prison for five years but gets released, would you remain married? That was the question An American Marriage by Tayari Jones attempted to answer in her popular novel.  An American Marriage was selected for Oprah’s Book Club in 2018 and has been a… Continue Reading

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 57: Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera

Signs Preceding The End of The World by Yuri Herrera is the first novel about the US-Mexico Border I can remember reading.  I read Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy years ago but it did not deal directly with the current issues about the border. This book came to my attention during the controversy surrounding the novel… Continue Reading

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 36: Binti Home by Nnedi Okorafor

Can you ever go home again? Binti Home by Nnedi Okorafor attempts to answer that question. Binti returns home after a year away on a spaceship at Oozma University. She brings her friend, Okwu, for support. However, the homecoming does not go as expected and the family treats Binti like a pariah. She discovers a… Continue Reading

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 23: Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck

                “Sometimes a journey can take you far away from home. It can take you far away from what you believe. From the only world you have ever known. And make you realize how much we are connected to each other. Also, how divided we can be.” This… Continue Reading

Book Review 58: Discoverability by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

The Indie Publishing movement of the past half-dozen years has changed the course of the publishing industry. Publishing books have become a lot easier thanks to eBooks, Amazon, and other Print-on-Demand (POD) publishers.  Would-be-novelists (like myself) that have tried to break into Traditional publishing have finally found an avenue to get their works out to… Continue Reading