An Aretha Franklin Impersonator Fooled Fans (Then Became A Star)
In the early days of rock 'n' roll, fans weren't always so sure just what their favorite singers looked like. Oh, the singer's image would probably appear on the record sleeve, but a single photo or illustration can leave you with just a vague impression of someone's face. If you saw the singer on TV, even that didn't help much, since the screen was small, fuzzy, and black and white.
For that reason, in the 60s, a little industry operated on the basis of putting on stage people who sang well and looked vaguely like famous stars, claiming they were the real deal. Fans had no easy way to verify whether the star really was scheduled to be in town that night, so they showed up, watched someone without realizing they were an impersonator, and had a great time.
Vickie Jones, an Aretha Franklin impersonator, was probably the highest-profile of these cases. First because, unusually, a prosecutor actually took her and her promotor to court—the prosecutor was an Aretha Franklin fan and had bought tickets to one of Jones' concerts and felt personally robbed when he learned the truth. Second, because it turned out that the real crime here wasn't the singer defrauding the public. It was the promotor holding Jones against her will.
This promoter, Lavell Hardy, initially hired Jones by telling her she'd be Aretha Franklin's opening act. He then surprised her by presenting her as the actual queen of soul, and when Jones objected, he threatened her and confined her to a hotel room.
Aretha Franklin herself claimed the prosecutor should go after Hardy, not Jones. He was reluctant at first, then—and we know this part sounds like something they'd just make up for the movie based on the story, but it happened—in the courthouse, he asked her to sing for him. He dropped the charges. Not just because she sang very well but because her style convinced him she was a genuine singer and not just doing impressions, supporting her story.
If that last scene sounded too perfect to be true, wait till you hear the next one: Right after she walked out of the courtroom, she found waiting for her a guy offering to be her agent, with her now singing under her own name. And so for the next year, before leaving the business to take care of her family, she toured, performed, and appeared on magazine covers. Since, if someone was able to sing as well as Aretha Franklin, well, she's probably worth listening to no matter she was calling herself.
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