She may be gone, but she remains the undisputed Queen of Soul. Millions around the world are mourning the loss of a music icon and divine inspiration as news breaks that Aretha Franklin has passed away. From the roaring demand of “Respect” to the wistful sweetness of “Say A Little Prayer”, Franklin’s gospel-infused voice changed the shape of music and the shape of history.
Her roots were deeply entrenched in music — and she has been the roots and inspiration for so many who came after her, as David Remnick’s poignant tribute explains:
“Aretha Franklin’s voice was a pure, painful, and unforgettable expression of American history and American feeling, the collective experience of black Americans and her own life. The Queen of Soul was the daughter of the most influential black pastor in Detroit, a charismatic, often cruel man who filled the house with musical friends—Duke Ellington, Della Reese, Nat Cole, Mahalia Jackson—and a constant cloud of threat and fury. Aretha Franklin rarely spoke of her inner life, her crises—she was wary of almost everyone—and yet the sound she made, the emotions she expressed and embodied, were as distinctive as Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong and John Coltrane. What artist built a sturdier and more sublime arc, from the songs of the first praise houses and black churches to the blues to R. & B. to pop and hip-hop? Like Ray Charles and Sam Cooke, Franklin combined matters of the spirit and matters of the body; the whole of her, it seemed, was in every bar. And though no one could imitate that voice and phrasing—the ecstatic shrieks and eerie note-bending, that sense of behind-the-beat time—her influence was immense.”
She was an unapologetic female voice. An unapologetic, black female voice. And, as a woman who knew her power and her worth, she was an inspiration to so many.
Even in 60s, drenched in a fur coat, her ferocious talent moved the Obamas and Carol King as she performed “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”. The song, written by King but made famous by Franklin, is the perfect encapsulation of the bone-shaking soul that infused her voice. If you haven’t seen it, this video will be the most important thing you see today:
“American history wells up when Aretha sings”, Obama said afterward. “Nobody embodies more fully the connection between the African-American spiritual, the blues, R&B, rock and roll–the way that hardship and sorrow were transformed into something full of beauty and vitality and hope.”
From singing in the choir of her father’s church to winning a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, a National Medal of Arts, a Presidential Medal of Freedom, and so much more, Franklin was a tidal wave. She cleared a path and set a new standard. She was America’s heart and soul and — and her legend is not going anywhere.