Little sister Caroline sat down one day
Oh yes she did
Pen in hand
And she wrote these words
Just like Aretha Franklin sings, it was her little sister Caroline who back in 1973 wrote the lyrics to the song, "Angel." The music, however, was written by composer Sonny Sanders, who got a call from Caroline in the middle of the night, asking for some help.
"I got up out of the bed at 12 or 1 in the morning, and went over, and we went all around, and she finally said, that's it, that's what I've been looking for. That's the story of Angel," Sanders said.
Sanders, who grew up in Chicago Heights and now lives in Chicago, worked out a deal with Aretha and her sister for half of the song's royalties. But while the song did well -- ending up on the Queen of Soul's greatest hits collection -- Sanders says he's never gotten his fair share.
"Soon after I left Detroit, all of a sudden I didn't hear from Aretha anymore, royalty-wise," he said. In 1998, Sanders filed a lawsuit against Franklin and her company, claiming he was owed half a million dollars. "There was at least twenty, twenty five years I did not receive royalties."
The case was settled, with Franklin promising to pay him $45,000 and to resume making quarterly payments based on the song's royalties. Over the next few years, Sanders said he received $40,000, but then in 2006, the checks stopped coming. Again.
"I don't get no R-E-S-P-E-C-T, and that's what I'm looking for. There are times when I get rather frustrated, and I would just like to get Aretha's ear," he said.
Well, I did get Franklin's ear last week. After I called her attorneys, she called me back and claimed that Sonny is delusional if he thinks he's owed anything.
"He knows there are no real payouts on that song at this point," she said. "We have paid him everything we are aware of."
But when Sanders complained last year, Aretha's attorneys did find almost $2,000 in overdue royalties, and also said he was welcome to review the records himself in Detroit. They now say that he never collected the $2,000 and hasn't taken them up on their offer to see the files himself.
Sanders believes he is owed much more than $2,000, and it shouldn't be up to him to do the accounting. He said he knows Angel is still generating income, because he's still getting royalty payments under a separate publishing agreement.
He's got a message for Franklin, who is in Chicago this week to appear on the Oprah Winfrey Show and to give a concert.
"Let's get this thing over with. Just don't keep doing what you're doing. It's not fair," he said.