Aretha Franklin: Long Live the ‘Queen of Soul’

Aretha Franklin 1968
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On August 16, music lost its matriarch. Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, died of pancreatic cancer. She was 76.

Franklin’s voice was so singular, so strong, and so pure. It became a symbol of strength and inspiration, not just for women, but as Mary J. Blige pointed out, “She is the reason why women want to sing,” but for men, musicians of every genre, and people of every color.

Aretha Franklin speaks to the crowd at the dedication of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. At right Vice President Joseph Biden, his wife Dr. Jill Biden, and President Obama

Franklin was a symbol of activism, humanitarianism, and, of course, respect.

Her iconic rendition of Otis Redding’s “Respect” had a power and influence that was two-fold. It became a Civil Rights anthem, as well as an anthem for women everywhere. Barack Obama told Rolling Stone Magazine, “She had no idea it would become a rallying cry for African Americans and women and anyone else who felt marginalized because of what they looked like, who they loved.”

Franklin didn’t just demand respect in her song; she backed it up with her unwavering commitment to civil rights, something she undoubtedly learned from her father. A Baptist minister famous in his own right, Reverend C.L. Franklin organized the 1963 Detroit Walk to Freedom and played host at their Detroit home to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The reverend’s daughter carried the torch of activism passed on to her throughout her career. Franklin ensured she would never play to a segregated audience by putting a clause in her contract detailing as much. She opened her home to activists, assisted with Democratic Party fundraising efforts, and offered her powerful singing voice at free concerts in support of the Civil Rights Movement.

Aretha Franklin sings “My Country ‘Tis Of Thee'” at the U.S. Capitol during the 56th presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2009.

Franklin also lent her support to controversial causes during a time when women, and especially women of color, were expected to keep their mouth shut and not make trouble for themselves. She supported the release of Angela Davis when she was wrongly accused of and jailed for murder. Davis was a member of the communist Black Panthers, and Franklin offered to pay Davis’ bail, proclaiming at a press conference, “Black people will be free.” She supported Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., touring with him and then singing “Precious Lord” at his funeral. She worked with Reverend Jesse Jackson and Reverend Al Sharpton in support of equal rights, and she sang at President Barack Obama’s inauguration.

Musically, Franklin was equally as busy and ballsy. She blurred the lines of genre, often crossing over from R&B to pop to jazz to rock and back again. Still, her gospel roots were always there laying the groundwork. Time and time again, Franklin took it to church, regardless of whether she was singing about a man who did her wrong or God, Himself. She broke records with her Grammy wins, and in 1987, she was the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

April 14, 2015 “The Queen of Soul – Aretha Franklin – was waiting for her cue during ‘The Gospel Tradition: In Performance at the White House’ when I noticed her close her eyes in silence for a few seconds while standing in the doorway between the Green Room and East Room before she was ready to begin her performance.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

She covered a string of songs that often achieved or even surpassed the successes of the original. Songs like “Respect,” Carole King’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” and Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” the last of which awarded Franklin her last charted single before she slipped from the limelight, albeit, she could never go quietly. That unmistakable, irreplaceable voice that cuts right to the soul will live on forever.

A private funeral for Franklin will be held August 31 in Detroit. She will be entombed alongside her family at Woodlawn Cemetery. Prior to that, on August 28 and 29, a public viewing will be held from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, also in Detroit.

A tribute concert, which was reportedly already in the works before Franklin’s death, is slated to take place at New York City’s Madison Square Garden on November 14.

Cover Photo credit:  By Atlantic Records(Life time: Published before 1978 without a copyright notice) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo 2 credit:  By Tami A. Heilemann-Office of Communications, US Dept. of Interior [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo 3 credit:  By Cecilio Ricardo, U.S. Air Force [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo 4 credit:  By The White House from Washington, DC (P041415PS-0977) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Guest Blogger – Megan McClure

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