Respect: An American Original
Aretha Franklin Will Forever Reign As The Queen Of Soul
We knew this moment would come but that didn’t stop any of us from hoping it wouldn’t.
Aretha Franklin, the queen of soul, has died.
But the awesome magnitude of her voice and its influence will continue to resonate in and outside recording studios throughout the world. Aretha’s music (and her life) is the soundtrack of our lives. Her voice is right there with every family reunion, every girls night out, every coming-of–age movie and many lovemaking by candlelight nights we cherish.
Aretha’s three octave range (some say four) became iconic for far more than just how she worked it but for the songs she chose and the time that she sang them. She sang at the funeral of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King – one year after her now legendary hit, “Respect,” was released. Hers was the voice that ushered in the inaugurals of three American presidents as she later became the first woman inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Of course, Aretha’s 18 Grammys, 75 million records sold and countless awards and honorary doctorates solidify her in music history and anchor her cultural immortality.
Those kinds of achievements are unlikely to be repeated – especially by anyone from such humble beginnings and whose career faced the kinds of embedded social obstacles that Franklin’s did.
But there are factors toward Aretha’s stature that are not so easily measured yet they contribute just as much to her status as a global icon. After a career spanning five decades, many of these factors boil down to Aretha’s simple demand for respect. Just as much as audience’s felt the passion of Franklin’s words as she poured her heart into each lyric of each song, there was no mistaking what she meant as she sang them. The daughter of a preacher understood the struggles of African Americans in the fight for equality and women’s struggle in the fight for basic recognition and equality. When she posted bail for activist Angela Davis, Aretha did it because she felt a commitment to the communities that made her successful. Throughout the years, she personally knew the pain of life and how it can have setbacks but never used her gifts to tear down or profit through record sales by celebrating the negative but instead continued to celebrate the power in being strong/beautiful: A Rose Is Still A Rose, she sang. These are the things that queens are made of.
Most of all, Aretha remained Aretha. As Rev. Al Sharpton put it: “She stood among the tallest trees in the forest but never forgot her roots.” Sharpton and Aretha’s former husband Glynn Turman and others reminded us that we are losing a giant in the world who never stopped being a family member in our hearts. Whether she was across the world belting out sisters are doin it for themselves with the Eurythmics or spanning continents with I knew you were waiting with George Michael, Re Re was always able to kick off her shoes and chit chat about who drop kicked who when she wanted to. She didn’t put on airs. She was a diva every day and she was real people. True divas and queens don’t have to pretend to be all that: They just are.
True, the times have also changed and individual artists rising to Aretha’s status in various statistical categories will, too. But they can never forget that Franklin made that possible – not just because of her song, but because of her message and how she conducted her life.
“She gave us the raw power and dimension of what a real, ‘natural’ woman could be,” says vocalist Bonnie Raitt. “In the ups and downs of her life, in the way she buckled and came back again and again. All the pain, longing, lust, rage and tenderness will always be there in her voice for us to treasure and remain in awe for all time.”