Aretha Franklin’s first husband Ted White wrote “Lee Cross”, released in 1967. They married in the early 1960’s, had a son together in 1963, and he took the reigns as her manager in 1962. The contributions Ted made to Aretha’s career are undeniable. His knowledge of the scene, connections to songwriters, and experience helped Aretha grow and eventually reach success. It was his songwriter Ronnie Shannon who wrote Aretha’s first number one, gold record “I Never Loved A Man (The Way That I Love You)”.
As a songwriter, though, the level he contributed are still up for debate. As Aretha recounted the songs they share songwriting credits on (“Think”, “Dr. Feelgood”, “Don’t Let Me Lose This Dream”, to name a few) in her autobiography, and she very bluntly stated that White “wrote a few lyrics here and there, but the majority of my songs came from my heart and soul and were created solely by me.” However, “Lee Cross” is proof that he could in fact write a song.
“Lee Cross” bops over a steady beat with an early R&B vibe. The tempo picks up at times for a foot stomping ambiance. The song describes a “young girl’s dream”: a down-right dog of a man, troublemaker, heartbreaker, and love maker. He’s a man that all the girls want, but he’s far from innocent. The song might be a bit of an allusion to reality. Ted White had a reputation as a player, a pimp, and an abusive husband. Based on the way this Lee Cross character is described, it’s hard to imagine that Ted was doing anything less than painting a much more favorable picture of himself.
While the songwriting on “Lee Cross” was straightforward, in terms of its’ release, things aren’t. As Aretha’s years at Columbia wound down, the recording and release of songs became rather disjointed. “Lee Cross” was recorded on February 8, 1964, the sole non-cover cut during the sessions for Unforgettable: A Tribute To Dinah Washington. However, it remained unreleased until 1967’s Take It Like You Give It, which was issued after Aretha departed the label and began finding true success on Atlantic Records. It also appeared on various compilations over the years.
Then, it got reconfigured when Columbia Records issued all of Aretha’s Columbia recordings in the 2011 box set Take A Look: Aretha Franklin Complete on Columbia. For the sake of cohesion, they tried to better organize songs and unreleased material based on when they were recorded and who produced them, as opposed to how they were released. As a result, “Lee Cross” found itself as a bonus track on Unforgettable: A Tribute to Dinah Washington. For some reason, they only reissued the mono mix, instead of the stereo. The mono doesn’t quite do justice to the nuances of the track. Specifically, there are a few instances Aretha affirms her lead vocal with a secondary vocal in the form of “tell the story”’s. In the mono mix, they come off on the same level as the rest of her vocals, diminishing their effect.
In a very interesting turn of events, as I was finishing up this piece, Take It Like You Give It (and 1965’s Soul Sister, and then 1967’s Soft & Beautiful, the 3 albums dismembered for the 2010 Columbia box set) appeared to stream on Spotify, and purchase across digital platforms for the very first time on May 23.
Listen to “Lee Cross”:
“The Breakthrough.” Aretha: From These Roots, by Aretha Franklin and David Ritz, Crown, 1999, pp. 110.