It took me a long time to realise that I was not Aretha Franklin. Nobody told me.

I had to find out for myself. 1971, on stage at the TF Much Ballroom in front of a huge audience, standing at the microphone about to sing (Sweet Sweet Baby) ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’ and suddenly losing my nerve.

It was all very well to sing along with Aretha at home and maybe you could even hit the high notes with her help, but a pale imitation – so pale – is a pale imitation and that realisation hit me then and there, aged 22, and I freaked right out.

Aretha was the Gold Standard by which all of us pretenders measured ourselves. In the same way, I imagine, that Adele and Amy are for girl singers today.

She was the bar up to which most of us (with some exceptions) could not, cannot rise. All that culture, history and Jesus packed into that one glorious set of pipes could not be replicated, merely mimicked.

Gladys and Mavis are separate branches of that same royalty but Aretha was and always will be the undisputed Queen of Soul.

Respect and Think, on every level – length, solo lyrics – are the greatest feminist hit singles Of All Time, bleaching into vapid insignificance the milk-toast I Am Woman.

And then there was the piano playing … A true musician at every level, Aretha.

In 1983 I did some recording (for Joe Camilieri) at Criteria Studios, Miami, Florida, in the very same studio Aretha recorded Respect. Overwhelmed much?

Hard to get a note out with confidence in that hallowed room.

Aretha made me go looking for my own voice, whatever that was, no matter how white, how weedy, and I thank her for that and for so much more.

This is a sad day.

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Jane Clifton is the genuine show-business all-rounder. Actress, singer, writer, occasional broadcaster and registered civil celebrant. A graduate of Monash University’s halcyon days of sex and demos and rock ‘n roll, Jane was lured away from a promising career as an English teacher by Melbourne’s alternative theatre – at La Mama and the Pram Factory – and the rock ‘n roll beer-barn circuit.

Jane has published 3 crime novels – Half Past Dead (Text), A Hand in the Bush (Text), Flush (Clandestine Press) – and 1 memoir, The Address Book. In 2018 her project is to write one poem a day. On Friday 14 September you can catch Jane at the wonderful Kastoria Music Club in sunny Coburg North in Melbourne’s hinterlands with a host of buddies singing all songs Linda Rondstadt.

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