Deep Dive: Aretha Franklin, SPARKLE

Thursday, March 26, 2020
Aretha Franklin SPARKLE Cover

It’s National Women’s History Month, and if you’ve been checking out since March began, then you know that we’re making a concerted effort to utilize a number of our regular features as opportunities to spotlight female artists. Today, we’re doing a deep dive into an album featuring music from the 1976 film Sparkle, but it’s not exactly a soundtrack. Yes, the music, which was written and produced by Curtis Mayfield, was in the film, but the vocals – which, as you might expect on an Aretha Franklin album, are performed by Aretha Franklin – were not.

Confused? That’s not surprising, but we’ll try to get you straightened out, starting by giving you a frame of reference to the film by offering up the trailer.

How about that narration by Casey Kasem? That’s some sweet, sweet stuff.

It may be surprising to some to see Philip Michael Thomas as the male lead, but he’d been working in films since 1972’s Come Back, Charleston Blue. Similarly, it might’ve been strange to see Irene Cara as the film’s female lead, since she first came on most people’s radar with her theme song for Fame, which didn’t come out until 1980, but she’d actually been working regularly as an actress throughout the entirety of the ‘70s, even being named one of Screen World’s “Promising New Actors of 1976.”

As for the soundtrack, however, the decision was made to release it without the lead vocals from the original songs, instead using the instrumental tracks and backing vocals but substituting Franklin as the lead singer. Not that there were a lot of people complaining: the album hit #18 on the Billboard 200 and topped the R&B Albums chart. The film itself, however, wasn’t nearly as successful, doing poorly from both a commercial and critical standpoint, but at least we’ve still got the album.