4 Decades Later, Aretha’s Sparkle Soundtrack Remains A Masterpiece

I dont have a favorite Aretha Franklin song. Her catalog is so expansive with 42 albums (excluding her live albums), that you cant choose just one or even a dozen. 

But there are ones that I play relentlessly, like “One Step Ahead,” “Rock Steady,” “Master of Eyes (The Deepness of Your Eyes),” “Day Dreaming,” “Sparkle” and “I Get High.” 

Aretha Franklin – Sparkle

one of my favourite tracks… produced by curtis mayfield circa 1976

My sister and I saw the movie Sparkle when it came out in 1976 at a drive-in theater with my free-spirited great-grandmother. Since then, I have seen it enough times that there’s not a word or a dance move (with choreography from Lester Wilson, best known for his work in Saturday Night Fever) in the film that I don’t know. 

The soundtrack was scored, recorded and produced by Curtis Mayfield in his Curtom studio in Chicago over a five-day period. 

Sparkle (1976) Official Trailer – Philip Michael Thomas, Irena Cara Movie HD

Subscribe to CLASSIC TRAILERS: http://bit.ly/1u43jDe Subscribe to TRAILERS: http://bit.ly/sxaw6h Subscribe to COMING SOON: http://bit.ly/H2vZUn Like us on FACEBOOK: http://goo.gl/dHs73 Follow us on TWITTER: http://bit.ly/1ghOWmt Sparkle (1976) Official Trailer – Philip Michael Thomas, Irena Cara Movie HD A girl group experiences turmoil after one of their members turns to drugs and another achieves their desired fame all by herself.

The music in the film features vocals by actress and singer Lonette McKee and actress Irene Cara.

With Aretha powering the score, the soundtrack was released ahead of the movie’s premiere, with some bonus material like the title track, along with “Rock With Me” and “I Get High,” none of which made it into the movie. 

Aretha Franklin – I Get High


Alternately, songs like Donny Hathaway’s “Giving Up,” sung by Lonette McKee in the movie and “Precious Lord” sung by Irena Cara, were not featured on the soundtrack. There is much folklore about why this happened this way. 

One story is that Mayfield was dissatisfied with the Sparkle cast’s performance of his songs and felt that their voices didn’t have the strength to carry out his musical vision. At the time, Aretha had 25 albums under her belt, but her last two — 1974’s “With Everything I Feel in Me” and 1975’s “You”, had failed to chart. 

Atlantic Records executive Jerry Wexler was thinking of dropping her from the label before president Ahmet Ertegun made the suggestion that she work with Mayfield, who had recently successfully scored 1972’s Superfly and 1974’s Claudine, on the soundtrack.

Aretha Franklin Rock With Me


 A more likely version of this folklore, if you follow the money, is that black movies had been having a successful run with the soundtracks selling them. Melvin Van Peebles took credit for starting this trend with Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song in 1971, selling the soundtrack in the foyers of the theater. 

The album sold the film and the film sold the album. 

Earth, Wind and Fire‘s That’s the Way of the World might have flopped as a film, but the soundtrack went triple platinum. 

“Melvin Peebles takes credit for this kind of marketing,” says music writer Michael Gonzales, who interviewed Curtis Mayfield in 1996. “But for the 1968 movie Uptight, Booker T. and the MG’s did the soundtrack and put it out on radio before the movie came out. This happened with a lot of movies, like Trouble Man. I want to like that movie, but it sucks. But the soundtrack is incredible.”

Aretha Franklin – Something He Can Feel

Uploaded by funkpunkandroll on 2013-12-22.

In an interview with Lonette McKee, she reveals to Gonzales that she was upset about this marketing tactic for Sparkle because she was a talented singer in her own right. She was becoming more well-known after releasing her first album at 14 as a child prodigy. Still, Sparkle catapulted McKee’s rising star both as a singer and an actress in her first movie role. 

The Sparkle soundtrack, where Aretha deftly melded black gospel phrasings with deep-rooted soul, would serve as a comeback album for her, reaching gold status. The single “Something He Can Feel,” where she was accompanied by the Kitty Haywood singers, became her first chart-topper in two years. 

Aretha Franklin – Look Into Your Heart

Uploaded by funkpunkandroll on 2013-12-22.

She and Mayfield would team up again in 1978 for the album, “Almighty Fire.” Despite Wexler’s bizarre misgivings about her, she would go on to make some of her most significant work with Atlantic Records and then Arista for many more decades.  

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