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Those wide arms also showed how her whole body sang.
When she accompanied herself on the piano, big rampaging chords picked up from Oscar Peterson and Art Tatum, she sang with the stomach as well as heart and head.
As a child of ten she'd understood that, hiding her chronic shyness behind the instrument while she sang "Jesus be a Fence Around Me" with the voice of an angel, or a grown woman.
That was the age she decided to be a singer, when she saw the great gospeller Clara Ward cast away her hat as she performed in church.
One gesture settled it; she would do the same.
Some said her father, the nationally famous pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, forced her into it, but it wasn't so.
The musical world of the time, Smokey Robinson, Mahalia Jackson, Lionel Hampton, Marvin Gaye, blues and jazz as well as gospel, passed through their house.
Music opened her out, drew her into some other place,
and it was she, not her father, who went off to New York to seek record contracts and who told would-be producers, frankly, "I want hits."
For a while she sang almost anything, but that didn't work.
She had to bear witness to what she had been through, including her mother leaving home when she was six, having babies by two different men before she was 15,
and at 19 marrying a slick pimp from Detroit, later her manager, who beat her up.
Pain and fame grew together.
The golden decade of hits, fostered by her move to Atlantic Records and Jerry Wexler in 1967, graced by her face on the cover of Time, was miserable at home.
But soul music, as it always had, let her turn both suffering and sexual yearning into one freedom cry.
Between sacred and secular she moved to and fro without effort.
Her biggest-selling album, "Amazing Grace" (1972) was recorded at a church service 14 years after her first album, "Songs of Faith", when her father was her manager.
On that record, her young voice scraped on the high notes.
In the interim her rough life had taught her smooth soaring.
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