In A Minute! (...Or Two): Ep. #84

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Ep. #84 Featuring Nathan Riley and Daniel Porter
"A Song For You"

“A Song For You”, the powerful American standard, has had so many iterations by so many iconic performers, you might not even know that it was penned by the inimitable Leon Russell. There is the 1983 GRAMMY-winning rendition by Ray Charles. There is Aretha Franklin’s mighty recording which, in true diva form, takes a little lyric license by changing the number of people watching from 10,000 to “millions”. There is the live performance in honor of Willie Nelson’s 70th birthday, featuring a legendary trio composed of Ray Charles, Nelson and Leon Russell himself. And of course there is the version that’s arguably the most recognizable, by soul titan Donny Hathaway!

Leon Russell spent much of his career in the shadows; first as a session musician for The Wrecking Crew, one of the most prolific studio bands in history, then as a songwriter creating hits like The Carpenters’ “Superstar”, George Benson’s “This Masquerade”, and Joe Cocker’s “Delta Lady”. Sir Elton John, a superfan of Russell’s, once considered leaving music altogether after hearing his virtuosic piano playing. “I nearly retired,” he once said. “I figured there wasn't much point in playing anymore.” But it was “A Song For You” - written in all of ten minutes - that sparked Russell’s solo career in front of the lights and ultimately became what Sir Elton referred to as an American classic.

Written with crooners like Sinatra in mind it has been interpreted over the decades by hundreds of artists including disco divas, country legends and neo-soul superstars. Olympic champion Michelle Kwan used Natalie Cole’s rendition as the backdrop to accompany her ice-skating performances in 2006. Whitney Houston’s version was so stunning that Russell sent a letter of appreciation to the superstar.

Adding their names to the esteemed list of cover artists for this definitive example of American song repertoire are versatile singer Nathan Riley and pianist Daniel Porter.