Tribute to Aretha Franklin

The “Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin passed away August 16, 2018 at the age of 76. She was an incredible singer and performer whose Jewish ties may not be generally appreciated. It was American Jewish producer Jerry Wexler (1917–2008), born in the Bronx of Polish and German ancestry, who took Otis Redding’s original material, transformed the song “Respect” into an instant hit, later a cultural anthem, and Aretha into a star, earning her the first of many awards, a Grammy for best R&B recording and for best female solo R&B performance. Years earlier, it was Wexler who even coined the term “Rhythm and Blues.”

Memorably, in 1967 Wexler came up with the song title “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” Wexler recalled how he asked two Jewish songwriters, Carole King (born Carol Klein) and Gerry Goffin, to produce a song for Franklin based on his title. The result was yet another iconic pop blockbuster. Franklin’s blend of gospel roots and glamorous, alluring vocal textures made “Natural Woman” into an enormous hit.

Temple Beth El celebrated a special Musical Shabbat and Open House on Friday, August 17, 2018 and one of the amazing songs sung by Cantor Ilan was an adaptation of our prayer Lecha Dodi sung to the music of Aretha Franklin’s “A Natural Woman.”

Cantor’s performance Friday continued a long tradition of taking lyrics from one source and mixing them with the music of a different song.

The original version by the Queen of Soul herself.

Here is Lecha Dodi sung by the Maccabeats set to the incomparable music of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.

And here is Leonard Cohen himself singing Hallelujah live at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 2008.

Finally, just to come full circle, here is Klezmer musician Daniel Kahn performing the same song in Yiddish.

For more on the Jewish roots of Aretha Franklin see:

The Secret Jewish History of Aretha Franklin in Haaretz.


How a Jewish Producer Helped Unleash Aretha Franklin’s Genius in the Jerusalem Post.