Aretha Franklin, the undeniable Queen of Soul, died today at her Detroit home. Aretha has been part of my life since I was a young girl. When I found myself alone and the only child being raised in my aunt’s home far away from my mother and siblings, I found solace in her music. I spent hours in the downstairs den playing and singing her songs on my 45 records, and pouring over the liner notes written on the cover of her vinyl LPs. Her songs are etched in my musical memory because I learned every chorus, every line, every riff, every twist and turn of her spectacular yet effortless voice. I couldn’t sing like her, but I could certainly sing with her – and sing I did! I even sometimes adopted the soft “s” or “sh” sound that was part of her signature style - can I get a witness? I still hear singers doing that today! Let's not forget that her talent was born and nurtured in her father's church, and to her credit, she never strayed completely away from it.
She took Carole King’s Natural Woman and Otis Redding’s Respect and turned them on their ear – so much so that I sometimes don’t remember the original versions. Ain’t No Way, Do Right Woman, Dr. Feel Good, Chain of Fools, and so many others were far beyond my years at the time, but still I belted them out with a passion, trying to emulate her unrestrained emotion. Her tasteful piano stylings convinced me that I could play like that, too, and I taught myself how to play Natural Woman and the intro to Don’t Play That Song For Me, still two of my very favorite Aretha Franklin songs.
I saw her in concert at the famed Cow Palace in San Francisco, where she famously called out during a live recording at one show “I discovered Ray Charles!” Charles was in the audience. Even musical geniuses have their musical idols.
Years later after I was living in L.A., I found myself at Aretha’s house with a few singers who worked with her musical director during the period when she was married to Glynn Turman. She wasn’t there – but I was in Aretha’s house and I was living a dream! Though I never met her personally, I walked and sat where she lived, and just that alone was awe inspiring to me.
A feisty persona broke through in many of her songs, especially R-E-S-P-E-C-T, which became an anthem for women everywhere! So I say now, much respect, Aretha Franklin. Your music has inspired and thrilled generations of people – and I’m sure it will continue to do so for many generations to come. Most of all, you nurtured a young girl (me!) at the beginning of my musical journey, and I learned how to sing – really sing – with your music.
Scripture: Proverbs 18:16 (NKJV parentheses added)
A man's (or woman's) gift will make room for him (her) and brings him (her) before great men.