The 2011 edition of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's annual American Music Masters series kicks off on Monday, and this year it's paying tribute to one of the greatest voices of all time: Aretha Franklin. The five-day event — which includes a mix of historical, scholarly, cultural, and of course musical programs — will explore the Queen of Soul's influence as a singer, songwriter, arranger, pianist, and champion of civil and women's rights.
"The range of her work is vast," says Lauren Onkey, the Rock Hall's VP of Education and Public Programs, and the person in charge of putting together the series. "It's not like there's one groundbreaking period and then you can dismiss the rest of her catalog."
Lady Soul: The Life and Music of Aretha Franklin features a bunch of interviews, Q&A sessions, and performances at the Rock Hall all week, including appearances by the Blind Boys of Alabama, who'll dig up Franklin's gospel roots, and Rock Hall inductee Spooner Oldham, who played keyboards on many of Franklin's classic hits. It all leads to the annual tribute concert at the State Theatre on Saturday, November 5. This year's lineup includes Lauryn Hill (who wrote and produced the title tune to Franklin's last good album, 1998's A Rose Is Still a Rose), Ronald Isley (who recently worked with Franklin on her latest album), former Temptation Dennis Edwards, and Chaka Khan. Franklin, who in 1987 was the first woman inducted into the Rock Hall, will be at the show but is not scheduled to perform.
Like the other 15 Music Masters series, which have honored everyone from Woody Guthrie to Janis Joplin, this year's edition is about more than just celebrating music and the star behind it. It's also about putting that star's music in perspective and exploring how it changed pop culture.
"She's become such an icon [that] her musical impact sometimes gets lost," Onkey says. "I want people to really think about it." You can find a complete schedule at rockhall.com.
SHOULDA BEEN DONE LONG AGO: Kent singer-songwriter Ryan Kralik recently released a cover version of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's "Ohio" as a teaser for his new album, which comes out in December. Kralik cut the song — which, of course, is Neil Young's impassioned reaction to the killing of four Kent State University students by the National Guard in 1970 — with Josh Hisle, a singer-songwriter and Marine from Cincinnati who played a song with Young in the legend's hotel room during a scene from the 2008 concert documentary CSNY/Déjà Vu. And if that isn't enough Neil Young for you: Kralik's still-untitled new album includes performances by bassist Rick Rosas, who's played on several Young albums and is also touring with Young's old band, Buffalo Springfield. Dave Krusen, who pulled a Pete Best and played drums on Pearl Jam's Ten but left before they became huge, is also on Kralik's upcoming record. If you really want to get into the whole tin-soldiers-and-Nixon-coming spirit of 1970, an old-school vinyl single of "Ohio" may be released at the beginning of next year.