We live double he lives like children, raised both in the city and in the country. I was born in Alabama, but grew up in Detroit and returned to my grandparents’ southern farm every summer. They had an outside bucket toilet; we call it the garbage can. My first memory is of a rooster attacking me while I was playing with it. It could easily have blinded me for life. Since then, God has been protecting me.
The music was always a family affair. My grandfather played the banjo; Dad used a guitar to woo my mom. When I sing, I try to imitate my mother’s powerful voice. My first performance was when I was three at a church talent show with my two older brothers, which we won. When it comes to music, I have my family to thank.
Racism has been a constant presence in my life. In the 1960s we had to fight and work too hard to convince people that we should allow ourselves to bring Motown to diverse crowds in auditoriums. Stones were thrown; the abuse was yelled at. People denied us access to public toilets. When we got to the stage, we dusted ourselves off and put on our fancy clothes. Regardless of how we felt, we would always go out and shine like royalty.
I have walked down down the hall twice, but I’m also not sure that the man standing in front of me saying “Yes, I do” really meant it. Both marriages were annulled. They tried to marry not only Martha, but also the Vandellas, joining me and trying it on with my backup singers. Instead, show business has been my husband and we have been faithful and committed to each other.
They offered me everything kind of drugs when I became acquainted. Fame should come with a warning. “Your nose is made for cocaine,” they said. He put LSD in my champagne. My doctors gave me all kinds of addictive drugs. At one point, I ended up with a straitjacket in a facility. My father came to see me in New York; Saw all my pills on the windowsill When I saw her tears, I knew there was a problem.
When i sing I feel my spirit is released. I am one person on stage and another completely off stage. My mom taught me at a young age to sing only songs that you can feel in your heart. If you can’t do it with love, find another.
I was reborn in 1977, Though I wish I had found salvation sooner I had been living in Los Angeles and witnessed the Janis Joplin overdose and the disappearance of John Belushi. He needed to find safety and get out of California. They took me on a prayer retreat and I found a way. I still take my Bible and read words from heaven; it is as addictive as any earthly substance.
Why wait until death? to celebrate a life? After Aretha Franklin’s death, she had theaters, streets, and movies in her name. If only I could have seen it and enjoyed it. If you’re going to get compliments, please do it all while I’m here. Give me those flowers while I can smell them; praise while I can still hear it.
Marvin Gaye asked to sing Dancing in the Street, a song he wrote. When I opened my mouth, something happened. I feel the same magic today as then, I can’t help but shake and shake. Not that I need to sing it a lot now, I just hold my mic to the crowd, smile, and listen.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism