To this very day, I remember the first time I ever heard Aretha Franklin sing. It was sometime in the 1980’s, when I just a “little dot,” as my mom used to call me. When I was around 4 or 5 years old, my mom and I had a routine on Saturdays: I’d get up early to watch Mr. Knozit (my people from South Carolina know about him) and my morning cartoons, and when Mom finally woke up, we’d watch MTV, American Bandstand, Solid Gold and later that night, Soul Train (I’m showing my age again). During one of our MTV binges—back when MTV played nothing but music videos—“Freeway of Love” came on. I had to ask my mom who the lady with the phenomenal voice was, and she told me it was Aretha Franklin, The Queen of Soul. I loved the song and jammed to it every time I heard it. To this day, it remains one of my faves of hers.
After I heard “Freeway of Love” as a pre-schooler, Aretha’s music became part of the great soundtrack of my life. I would listen to classics that were made long before I came into existence like “Ain’t No Way,” “Until You Come Back To Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do),” “(You Make Me Feel) Like a Natural Woman,” and of course, “Respect.” As I grew up, Aretha continued to make more music for my generation like “Ever Changing Times,” “Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves,” “I Knew You Were Waiting For Me,” and “A Rose Is Still a Rose” (I don’t know anyone my age that doesn’t love that song).
Then there was President Obama’s inauguration in 2009. I was so proud to see Re-Re up there singing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” with her church hat. I remember how everyone commented on that hat, but being a southern girl, I knew the significance of it. Ladies like Aretha that were around back in the day and were raised in the church always had to look good, and the hats had to be on fleek. After she passed, I learned something new about Ms. Franklin: she was heavily involved in the Civil Rights Movement. In a tribute article written about her in The Atlantic, the author spoke on how she toured with Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poiter to raise money for Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and she supported The Black Panthers (who were NOT a hate group and/or terrorist organization as many would have you believe). She even tried to post bail to get Angela Davis out of jail. “Respect” was not only considered a song of women’s empowerment, it also became an anthem for black people living in the civil rights era, asking to have their respect as human beings.
All in all, Aretha Franklin was a great lady with a great voice and a great spirit. She influenced so many artists—peers and successors alike—and she provided great music and memories for so many people during the last five or so decades. She was really the Queen of Soul, and she’ll be greatly missed. At the risk of sounding cliched, the world is definitely a more drab place without her. Rest in power, Ms. Franklin.
Aretha Louise Franklin: March 25, 1942 – August 16, 2018
—Written by Nadiya