The long-shelved Aretha Franklin concert film Amazing Grace is set to receive a nationwide North American release in early 2019, according to reports in Rolling Stone. Following the Queen of Soul’s death in August, the 1972 film was finally unveiled at the DOC NYC festival ahead of its Oscar-qualifying run in Los Angeles and New York.
Franklin’s estate and film distributor Neon announced an agreement for the North American release of Amazing Grace, which captures the then-29-year-old Franklin teaming with the choir at the New Bethel Baptist Church in Watts, Los Angeles.
“Amazing Grace is the heart and soul of Aretha Franklin,” Sabrina Owens, Franklin’s niece and personal representative of the Aretha Franklin Estate, said in a statement. “This film is authentic and is my aunt to her core. Our family couldn’t be more excited for audiences to experience the genius of her work and spirit through this film.”
In January 1972, Franklin was already a monumental presence in the culture when she decided to return full-on to her religious roots and record a new album in a church. Over two nights, Franklin settled into the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church, accompanied by her regular band, her friend and gospel great, the Reverend James Cleveland, and the Southern California Community Choir.
Franklin’s band, which included bassist Chuck Rainey, drummer Bernard Purdie and guitarist Cornell Dupree, rehearsed for several days beforehand, although they were familiar with the repertoire and even with attending church with her. “On the road, I remember many occasions when, wherever we were playing, we would always go to church, and we would always go with her,” Rainey told Rolling Stone. “She would just be a visitor, and every once in a while she would sing.”
In November 2018, producer Alan Elliott, who acquired the rights to the film in 2007, said of Amazing Grace in a statement, “I am thrilled to work with Sabrina Owens and the family to do right by Aretha’s legacy. Being able to share this film and the musical genius of Aretha Franklin with her family and the world is an honor. Aretha’s fans will be enthralled by every moment of the film as her genius, her devotion to God and her spirit are present in every frame.”
While the Sydney Pollack-directed concert film remained unreleased due to Franklin’s own dissatisfaction with the finished product as well as technical and legal issues, it has nonetheless received acclaim in the interim. Rolling Stone deemed the resulting soundtrack one of the Queen of Soul’s greatest albums.