Aretha Franklin, the undisputed queen of soul and the singular greatest singer of all time, passed away on Aug. 16. Aretha, affectionately, known as “Re Re,” succumbed to advanced pancreatic cancer. Her singing career spanned over seven decades beginning in the church with her father, the late Rev. C.L Franklin. She spent a lot of time in church when she was young and that was where she discovered her talent for singing. Aretha was very spiritual in her early years as a singer which was something she maintained throughout her life.
Wherever she went, Aretha’s voice captivated the crowd. She was considered a child prodigy, singing on the road as she traveled with her father to churches from Memphis, Tenn. to New York and Detroit.
After coming of age, Aretha crossed over to the secular side of music, but she never left the church. In her early career, she sang with the big bands and displayed her repertoire by singing the blues and jazz. On Feb. 14, 1967, Aretha released a record that became a symbol of her career. The song “Respect,” which was a remake of an Otis Redding song, jumpstarted Aretha’s career to stardom. The song remains as popular today as it was 51 years ago when it was recorded. It is universally considered an anthem for women, both black and white, who demand respect from their husband or significant other.
Aretha went on to produce a string of hits including “Chain of Fools,” “Rock Steady,” “Spanish Harlem,” Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “Natural Woman,” and so many more that brought her universal acclaim and carried her through the 1970s when she was crowned the “Queen of Soul.” However, one of the greatest albums she produced was the 1972 album “Amazing Grace.” This album, which sold more than 2 million copies, was Aretha’s biggest selling album and was recorded live at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles. Some of the songs from this recording are included in a list of her records that are featured in the Grammy Hall of Fame. The album featured her version of “Amazing Grace” as well as other gospel songs that helped transformed gospel music and put it on the road to mainstream popularity. Her gospel songs were undeniable in featuring her distinct voice that somehow let you know that she was singing to you and telling you that Jesus will take care of you. Her music had a way of moving you whether you were black, white, Latino or any other racial ethnicity.
Her music affected various genres and is still influencing singers today and for generations to come. Aretha meant a lot to many people especially growing up in the 1960s and 1970s. Her music was a favorite of nearly everyone who was of age to understand and appreciate her talent. I remember my aunts and uncles going to clubs such as Robert Parham’s, the American legion, Shine Hurt, the Sunset and the Combo, swinging and grooving to Aretha’s popular tunes. Although I was too young to understand at the time, I somehow sensed her genius mind in the lyrics to her songs. Her music had a way of transcending people. Bringing people together despite their differences and social-economic backgrounds. Her music demanded people treat women with respect and honor. Her songs taught men how to love and communicate with their women and to respect and honor them.
Aretha, who grew up with humble backgrounds, became a mother before turning 13 and had another son at 18. She went through turbulent relationships, but despite that she always kept God in her view. Despite her popularity with secular music, Aretha was widely known for love of gospel music. Her gospel songs such as “Precious Memories,” “Amazing Grace,” “Precious Lord” and “What a Friend we have in Jesus” helped her to stay the course.
In 1987, the year she became the first woman to be inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, she recorded One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, an album of sacred songs that won a Grammy for best soul performance.
Aretha’s father once predicted that she would sing for kings and queens, which she did, along with singing for President Barack Obama’s inauguration. She sang “Precious Lord Take my Hand,” at the funerals of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 and later on for Gospel queen Mahalia Jackson in 1972. Throughout her career and the success, she enjoyed, Aretha never forgot her humble beginning and contributed to the support social justice and equality. She and her father supported the Civil Rights Movement with their popularity and donating money to help bring about equality for all people. She will be remembered for her grace, eloquence and poise as she takes her place in the pantheon of African – American greats. May she rest in peace.