No one is reading David Ritz’s unauthorized biography of Aretha Franklin called “Respect.” It sits in the book sales basement at number 6,000 on amazon.com. Why? The public smells a rat. They’re not shelling out good money for junk.
Franklin has every right to be mad. Fifteen years ago David Ritz helped her write an autobiography called “From these Roots.” Franklin had editorial control. In the end, she excised material she didn’t like from that book. Ritz resented it. He obviously planned his revenge.
Now Ritz has scooped up what was on the cutting room floor and made “Respect.” It’s a betrayal and a total violation of trust. You wonder, how could he do it? Does he have no conscience? As a journalist and a lover of R&B, I am horrified. He’s taken advantage of his former access. No one should ever again trust him to do a memoir with them.
And then there’s a question of attribution. Almost everyone he quotes is dead. He offers no proof that he interviewed them. It’s even more unlikely that they said any of this stuff. For instance, Ritz wrote a whole about Ray Charles. But none of the Ray Charles info in “Respect” was in the Ray book. Suddenly a dead Ray Charles has a whole lot of new quotes about Aretha Franklin.
Aretha did tell a Detroit newspaper she was thinking about suing Ritz. It’s not worth it. In the end, no one is reading his book. It’s trash. She told me the other day: “The book is called Respect. And clearly no respect is intended by David Ritz….it is a twisted and distorted attempt to defame–and character assassinate–me, my father and family!!”
Franklin is concerned about Ritz’s suggestion that she’s jealous of other singers. “He suggests as well I was jealous of Diana Ross, Barbra Streisand, and Gladys Knight– which is just plain crazy but consider the source!!!!”
I have to say, I was with Aretha when she and Streisand were together last year. It was a love fest. I have the pictures to prove it. She was equally proud of her sisters Carolyn and Erma, who wrote many of her hits. According to Ritz, there was constant festering jealousy among them. Simply not true.
Aretha is also not happy about Ritz’s descriptions of her father or his church. I don’t blame her. She won’t say it, but I will: it’s racist. It’s that simple.
“After 50 years of [my family] being in the public eye … there is no question people know who we were and what we stand for,” Aretha tells me. “Everyone he quotes is deceased and cannot defend themselves. And there blatant lies gospel luminary James Cleveland….and calling the church a sex circus! He’s horribly vindictive.”
So ignore the book. Dig Aretha Franklin’s new album and her single on “Rolling in the Deep.” The Queen of Soul is a national treasure. On December 12 th she’s getting the Billboard Women in Music Award, the latest in a string of awards and citations. David Ritz will be home, counting his remainders.
PS I will tell you that despite the idiosyncrasies of being one of the most famous performers in the world, Aretha Franklin is loyal to her friends and family and vice versa. Her annual New York birthday party goes on for hours every March. Aretha throws it herself, and for her friends. It’s become like a national holiday for her inner circle. After a close read of “Respect,” I’m sorry that Ritz wasted so much time on negativity. There would have been so much to be gained by telling the real story of Aretha’s extraordinary struggle, literally, from her roots.