October 9, 2013
I came across the YouTube clip below the other day and seeing the young, Afro-ed Aretha Franklin brought back a happy memory: seeing the Queen of Soul in concert for the first time.
I even was able to find a picture of the concert poster online. Check out the fine print. Tickets were $4. And the humorists at City College of New York (of which I am a graduate) noted “No reserved seats — in fact no seats…..”
That’s because the show took place at Lewisohn Stadium on the CCNY campus in Harlem. Built in 1915, Lewisohn was somewhat similar to Harvard Stadium or Soldier Field in Chicago. Instead of chairs or benches, you sat on long concrete slabs, as uncomfortable as they sound. They tore the stadium down in 1973.
The Aretha concert was just killer. An opening set by King Curtis and the Kingpins, a spectacular band that included one of the best rhythm sections ever, Cornell Dupree on guitar, Jerry Jemmott on bass and Bernard “Pretty” Purdie on drums. Then Aretha came out. I don’t remember the set list, but I do remember how impressed I was by all the piano playing she did. And somewhere near the end of the show, she did a version of “Natural Woman” that destroyed me.
Somewhere in the middle of the show she brought out Muhammad Ali, who spoke to the crowd. His appearance came a little more than a month after he lost the so-called “Fight of the Century” to Joe Frazier at Madison Garden, Ali’s first loss ever. Not that it mattered to the left-wingers at CCNY, who loved Ali for his anti-Vietnam War stance.
This YouTube clip shows you what Aretha looked and sound like back then. And I love her version of “Don’t Play That Song” even more than Ben E. King’s magnificent original.