Aretha Franklin in 1968

Here’s a fun Aretha Franklin note: Her first concert in the Twin Cities received mixed reviews. Or at least one critic – Molly Ivins, who later won national renown as a political columnist – was more tolerant than the other about how concerts unfolded back in the day.

In short, the shows didn’t run like clockwork.

That was the complaint of the Minneapolis Star critic about Aretha's show July 19, 1968, at the Minneapolis Auditorium. (No, it wasn’t me; I didn’t start writing for the Star, which was the city's afternoon paper, until 1974.)

The Star's Judith Gerstel pointed out that Aretha didn’t hit the stage until 11:15 p.m. The writer admitted that she didn’t stay for the entire performance (“not being in the mood for a marathon”) but she heard enough to complain that Aretha’s “timing was off so completely, her vocal agility lacking, and her distinctive soulful quality so missing that the switched-on soul-searching audience, already deadened by the long wait, accorded her polite but stunned applause. ‘Something’s definitely wrong,’ said the girl sitting next to me.”

Gerstel pointed out that Aretha apologized for “a slight case of laryngitis.” That prompted the critic to carp “If the star wasn’t up to par, perhaps the event should have been cancelled.

“The show went on as scheduled, but the ’68-style communion, the orgiastic swinging together of souls that’s either primitive or sublime depending on who you are and how you look at things, simply didn’t happen.”

That isn’t the way Ivins saw saw the concert, writing for the morning Minneapolis Tribune (the Star and Tribune merged in 1982).

“Everybody in the jam-packed audience, from black teeny-boppers to over-60 matrons, grooved on Aretha’s music. Even the foot of Mayor Arthur Naftalin tapped along,” wrote Ivins, who launched her career at the Tribune from 1967-70, becoming its first female cops reporter. (Ivins apparently volunteered or was assigned to cover this show.)

Ivins praised “Miss Franklin” for her four-octave range, with everything “from a sexy, throaty whisper to a controlled scream.”

In addition to mentioning that local band Michael’s Mystics opened the show to mixed response, the Tribune reporter wrote that Aretha delivered “Dr. Feelgood” at the piano and “gave a whole new dimension to sex” when she sang the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction.” And Ivins opined that Aretha “made a soul song” out of the standard “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”

Ironically, “There’s No Business Like Show Business” was the final song Aretha sang in her final Twin Cities appearance in 2014 at the Minnesota State Fair.

Ivins, who died of cancer in 2007, went on to become a celebrated writer and syndicated columnist at the New York Times, Dallas Times Herald and the Fort Worth Star Telegram. 

Gerstel later worked for the Detroit Free Press and Toronto Star as a syndicated columnist and movie critic. When reached by email on Monday, she simply replied: “Thanks for letting me know… a long time ago.”

Editor’s note: Thanks to Twin Cities Twitterati Chris Steller for uncovering these reviews.

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