Monday, October 15, 2018

Queen of Soul Power

September 23, 2018 by  
Filed under Cover Story, Feature

Aretha Franklin’s legacy will live forever — in her legendary voice, timeless songs, and the excellence and dignity that defined a legendary life

Once in awhile, a legend slips into immortality — and the passing feels like the world has lost a part of its soul. And when the fallen is the Queen of Soul, the sense of loss and sorrow cuts deep and wide.

When Aretha Franklin died last month at 76, one of the most powerful voices in recorded history fell silent on earth — but her sound will live forever in the heavens, ringing through the hearts, spirits, and minds of generations to come.

Born in Memphis, Tenn. in 1942 to Barbara Vernice and C.L. Franklin, Aretha was an essential thread in the fabric of America’s greatest export — popular culture. A thread that bound people all over world together, with an inimitable sound that was born in the black church (Detroit’s New Bethel Baptist) and won worldwide acclaim with timeless songs like “Respect,” “I Say a Little Prayer,” “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman,” “Chain of Fools,” “Think,” “Until You Come Back to Me,” “Rock Steady,” and “Precious Lord.”

But Aretha’s power wasn’t measured in her many laurels — being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, becoming the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, performing for President Obama, winning 18 Grammys — or positions on the pop charts. Like many of her contemporaries (think Marvin Gaye, Nina Simone, and James Brown) her voice will always be an indelible part of the soundtrack of the black struggle for freedom and equality. It wasn’t just in the recording studio; she traveled with Martin Luther King Jr., and was said to have paid Angela Davis’ bail when she was arrested for her advocacy during the civil rights movement.

And only Aretha could turned a song originally written for a man — “Respect” — into a timeless anthem for black women’s empowerment, and touch hearts from Michigan to Mozambique, Mexico to Micronesia, and Montenegro to Myanmar with Jesus in her heart, piano keys under her fingers, and “I Say a Little Prayer” on her lips.

Her wisdom was not restricted to the lyrics of her classic hits. In interviews, her insights into life were equally poignant and poetic. Some highlights:

ON RESPECT
“Everybody wants respect,” she said to Rolling Stone in 2014. “In their own way, three-year olds like respect, and acknowledgment, in their terms.”

ON BODY IMAGE
“Who hasn’t had a weight issue? If not the body, certainly the big head,” she joked to People magazine in 2007.

ON THE POWER OF WOMEN
“As women, we do have it,” she told Elle in 2016. “We have the power. We are very resourceful. Women absolutely deserve respect. I think women, children and older people are the three least respected groups in our society.”

ON PARENTING
“My children have been wonderful. Times when I have been down, they have lifted me up,” she told Ebony in 1995. “But, once they pass a certain age, their independence begins to kick in. You have to learn when to let go. And that’s not easy.”

ON “RESPECT” and “NATURAL WOMAN”
“I didn’t think my songs would become anthems for women, she told Time in 2017. But, I’m delighted. Women probably immediately feel compassion and relate to the lyrics. We can all learn a little something from each other, so whatever people can take and be inspired by my music is great.”

ON HER CONTEMPORARIES
On Beyoncé, she proclaimed to the Toronto Star, “She is a worker, like all Virgos, and I appreciate that. Bootylicious — oh yes, I want to get me some of that.” In that same interview, she dispelled rumors of a feud with Patti LaBelle. “There is no truth to the rumors we were fighting at the White House. That’s all made up stuff. We love each other.”

ON LOVE
“Falling out of love is like losing weight,” she said to the Independent in 2011. “It’s a lot easier putting it on than taking it off.”

ON HER ILLUSTRIOUS CAREER
“We didn’t have music videos. You weren’t an overnight sensation. You had to work at it and learn your craft. How to pace your concerts, all that trial and error. I paid my dues, I certainly did,” she told Elle.

ON CHALLENGES
“It’s the rough side of the mountain that’s the easiest to climb. The smooth side doesn’t have anything for you to hang on to,” she told Ebony in 1964.

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