Aretha Franklin truly made America great
When I first heard news of Aretha Franklin’s death, I felt like a part of me died with her. She truly had an impact, not just on Black America, but all Americans. She was one of the first crossovers who helped change the racial divide, not with Black militancy but through her powerful music.
Her death brought a rush of childhood memories back to me. That was when musicians could actually sing!
The first song I remember hearing was “I Say A Little Prayer.” It is one of those records I could play repeatedly and never get tired of hearing it. This was my personal favorite song, though others may argue in favor of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” or “Chain of Fools.”
Aretha had one of those voices where, if you’re sad, troubled or stressed, you can find something she sang and remember what’s important in life. There will be no one else like her. Our country lost someone that made America great because she sang about love instead of division.
Although I loved Aretha, I really didn’t know much about her life. For a woman with such a powerful voice, I assumed she was a southern girl. When I read her biography, I was shocked to find out she once lived in Buffalo, New York. Later, when she was still a child, her family moved to Detroit.
She was the daughter of Rev. C.L. Franklin, whose sermons led to him being known as the man with the “million-dollar voice.” His celebrity status drew other various celebrities to the Franklin household, among them Clara Ward, James Cleveland, Martin Luther King Jr., Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke.
Clara Ward, who was romantically involved with Aretha’s father, served as a role model to the young Aretha. Her father was also a major fundraiser for Dr. King, who personally encouraged Aretha to perform on stage.
Hers was one of the few voices with the power to reduce the most hate-filled men to tears. She could get the emotion out of you, She had such a unique presence.
Being a product of the ‘70s, I remember my parents would come home with an Aretha album and I would love seeing that Atlantic label spinning soul classics such as “Respect,” “Think” and “(You Make Me Feel like) A Natural Woman.”
I learned later that nothing could top seeing a young Aretha perform. And nothing made me more proud than seeing her powerful Black presence blow anyone off the stage. I was lucky enough to experience this twice, in Newark and in Philadelphia, on the Chitlin’ Circuit. She truly was the “Queen of Soul,” and there will never be anyone else that can compare to her.
Aretha came at a time when Blacks were considered unattractive, but also at the same time Black women such as Gladys Knight, Diana Ross, Lyn Collins and The Staple Singers were blowing the doors wide open and producing better music then White America. It was the golden era.
Arguably, it was either Aretha or Diana Ross who first appealed to America, as opposed to Black America or White America. Some people’s stars shine bright enough to clear the paths for future generations. Like Michael Jackson, Aretha’s star shined so brightly, nothing was going to deny her.
Thank you, Aretha, for your music. Somewhere in the heavens, someone is dancing to your beautiful silky voice. I miss you and I will always remember and love you.