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Amazing Grace, live gospel recording by Aretha Franklin, screened at South Holland Centre, Spalding

In January 1972, Aretha Franklin walked into the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles, USA, and recorded what was to become the biggest selling gospel music album of all time.

Amazing Grace, a documentary filmed by Oscar-winning director Sydney Pollack (Out of Africa, Tootsie, Sabrina) is a cinematic account of this landmark, two-day recording that even managed to bring The Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger into church.

Screened at Spalding's South Holland Centre last week, Amazing Grace starts out as an ultra-cool singing assignment for Franklin, winner of a staggering 18 Grammy music awards before her death in August 2018.

Amazing Grace is a live gospel album by American soul singer Aretha Franklin.(14297505)
Amazing Grace is a live gospel album by American soul singer Aretha Franklin.(14297505)

But gradually the solidly professional exterior of the "Queen of Soul" melts as Franklin is eventually overcome while singing such gospel classics as What a Friend We Have in Jesus, Precious Memories, How I Got Over and the incomparable 18th century hymn written by poet John Newton that gives the film its name.

Except that it isn't a film a tall, neither is it the documentary that Pollack originally intended it to be.

What Amazing Grace really becomes is a moment in time when the social, racial, political and historical realities of what was President Richard Nixon's pre-Watergate (the political scandal that ultimately led to his resignation in August 1974) USA.

Franklin says next to nothing in the near-90 minute film, only a courteous and almost apologetic "God bless you all and I've had a wonderful time" right at the end.

Maybe she had no energy left for polite conversation after singing her heart and soul out, accompanied by legendary American gospel choir leader, theReverend James Cleveland and the Southern California Community Choir, directed by the pivotal figure of choir leader Alexander Hamilton.

Pivotal because Hamilton does his job so well that he is barely noticed and the suffocating adulation for Franklin who shows just one moment of vulnerability, coupled with childlikeness, in the entire film.

Sat at a piano and ready to play Never Grow Old, recorded by one of Franklin's own inspirations, Mahalia "Queen of Gospel" Jackson, Franklin's father, the Reverend Clarence La Vaughan "C. L." Franklin, gently but firmly wipes his daughter's sweaty brow.

In truth, Franklin never needed to say a word about Amazing Grace because Mr Cleveland said it all for her.

"It doesn't really matter how you sing it, it all depends on who you're singing it too," the Reverend said.

Everyone who watches Amazing Grace will say "Amen" to that.

Review by Winston Brown

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