I Spent an afternoon in a recording studio with Aretha Franklin back in ’81 or ’82 filming and interviewing here for a regular segment I was doing on the “Today Show” called, “On the Record.” She sat at the piano for the interview where I was hoping to get her to play and sing something unrehearsed, something that wasn’t part of the album. Before we began the formal interview I asked if she still played much piano. She immediately started playing a gospel number, (not one of the classics), and asked if I could name the song. I’m assuming she was thinking there was no way I would know the title, and the odds were I wouldn’t, Songs titles are not my strength, but by a lucky chance this was a gospel song I knew and I think my correct answer helped put her in the mood to play and sing for me. If only I had the field tapes we shot from that session.
I did find this copy of the story that aired on the Today Show and it has a brief clip of her playing and singing, “Near the Cross” in Aretha’s unmatched gospel style. It also has her laying down the vocal track for the song, “This is for Real” which would be on her new album. Looking back at the tape reminded me of how much access we used to get to the music industry for our “On the Record” segment. At the time no network news organization was covering the music business on a regular basis until I started the “On the Record” segment. They were so thrilled to be getting the coverage and publicity that we were given permission to film this recording session with Aretha and put the story on the air two months before her album was scheduled to be released. Now the record company or the artists would film the sessions themselves, edit the material to their liking, and then try to sell the package.
When you look at the video you will notice the producer for the record sitting in the control room is a young looking Luther Vandross. This was the first of two albums he would produce for Aretha. This one would be her first gold record in several years. Of course in the early 80′s it was not only a young looking Luther, but a young looking Aretha and young Boyd, and even a young Chris Wallace who was hosting the Today Show that day.