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January 6, 2012

Aretha Franklin sets out to discover the next great opera singer

Not sure what to make of this news item from NPR: The Queen of Soul wants to find the next Queen of the Night -- or Aida, or Calaf, or whatever.

The incomparable Aretha Franklin, who once electrified the hell out of folks when she stepped in for Luciano Pavarotti at the 1998 Grammy Awards and sang his signature aria, "Nessun dorma" (I cannot tell a lie -- I was hooked from her subterranean octave drop in the second measure), has announced a contest for aspiring opera singers.

She told NPR that she would "like ...

to see some younger singers come along and take [the] place" of such notables as Leontyne Price. Jessye Norman and Barbara Hendricks. Franklin will sign winners to her own label, Aretha's Records, and offer career support.

Unlike the typical opera competition, there apparently will be no jury, just Franklin.

Singers between the ages of 18 and 40 are invited to send demo recordings (CDs or those ancient things called cassettes), along with an 8-by-10 head shot and resume. Mail to:

Aretha's Records

c/o Thav, Gross, Steinway & Bennett

30150 Telegraph Road

Bingham Farms, MI 48012

There is something odd about this venture, given that classically trained singers are being asked to compete for the favor of an artist from a different genre. Then again, that artist is a cherished legend in her own time, so her offer cannot be dismissed lightly.

Will a nod from Aretha help a winning vocalist get into the Met? Probably not. But it could be a cool chapter in the life of any aspiring singer.

While you're preparing your entry, here's a little inspiration:

Posted by Tim Smith at 5:25 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Clef Notes, Opera


I've always loved Aretha's version. Technique aside, Aretha "gets" it and knows how to work with what she's got.

I trust her chops and musical instincts in this contest, actually. I'm intrigued to see who she selects, and who advances in her contest.

I must say I am intrigued, too. Thanks for the comments. TIM

I think it is a shame that Aretha Franklin got so many opera singers who have a passion for that type of music excited about her desiire to help them get recognized, then nothing ever came of it...opera is beautiful, and it is a shame that it does not get recognized. Shame on Aretha for not following through!

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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