New Box Set To Showcase Franklin’s Columbia Years

Aretha Franklin’s unheralded recordings at Columbia Records will get another perspective with an expansive 12-disc box set that makes the argument that the Queen of Soul was already royalty before her career-defining hits at Atlantic Records.

“The conventional wisdom is that Columbia failed to see that this was a singular artist with a universal vision, that her material was mismatched with her talent, that her arrangers were too heavy-handed,” said Leo Sacks, producer of Take a Look: Aretha Franklin Complete on Columbia, due out March 22.

“There were enough moments at Columbia where it’s clear that she came very close to catching the moment, and I think the listener is going to have to make their own judgment to see whether her Columbia years have been unfairly diminished.”

Photo: AP Photo/Columbia Records
Take A Look: Aretha Franklin Complete on Columbia is set for release March 22, 2011.

Franklin, 68, arrived at Columbia in 1960, when she was 18 years old. There, she recorded jazz and pop standards, and music historians have often dismissed her work at the label in comparison to her explosion five years later at Atlantic Records, where she recorded her biggest hits, like “Respect,” and became known as the Queen of Soul.

The box set of 11 music CDs and one DVD takes listeners through songs like “Take a Look,” “Unforgettable” and “Ol’ Man River.” Though some material is unreleased and includes rehearsal and alternate takes, Sacks acknowledges that much of it has been previously released.

“Aretha’s Columbia years have been picked over more times than a Barney’s warehouse sale, and there isn’t anything in this collection that hasn’t been worn previously,” he joked this week. “But there are enough unexpected surprises in these CDs, including many rare mono mixes and unissued performances, that show how close she came to stardom.”

Franklin has recently undergone surgery for an ailment she hasn’t disclosed, but she told talk-show host Wendy Williams this week that her health is “superb.”