Remembering Aretha Franklin: The Queen Of Soul
The Queen Of Soul is dead. Long live the queen.
Aretha Franklin is the best. That’s what I tell my daughters when they ask who is the greatest vocalist of all time.
Aretha is my favorite. That’s what I tell my first born, who my wife and I named Aretha, when she asks whose voice I love above all others.
Aretha is power. That’s who I will tell my youngest, Melody, to look to when she seeks inspiration and strength.
Aretha is love. That’s the feeling that overwhelms me when I hear the magical music she made throughout her astounding career.
Aretha is timeless. That’s the legacy that remains from the woman who graced us with a truly unparalleled talent and grace.
Her friend and fellow legendary vocalist Mavis Staples wrote about Franklin for the Los Angeles Times. Staples described hearing Franklin’s early in her career performing the gospel song “Never Grow Old,” about which she stated.
That particular song wasn’t the easiest song to sing. But Aretha — she had the voice, she had the range, she was great. You just couldn’t help but think that this is a young girl for someone who has so much feeling. Her voice would just go all through you. I was so happy to meet her then. She just had it from the beginning, from Day One. She was just special.
Another of Franklin’s talented collaborators was the late keyboardist Billy Preston. I want to share again his quote about Aretha, which perhaps summarizes her incredible and singular talents better than anything ever written or said about The Queen Of Soul. Take it from Billy:
I don’t care what they say about Aretha. She can be hiding out in her house in Detroit for years. She can go decades without taking a plane or flying off to Europe. She can cancel half her gigs and infuriate every producer and promoter in the country. She can sing all kinds of jive-ass songs that are beneath her. She can go into her diva act and turn off the world. But on any given night, when that lady sits down at the piano and gets her body and soul all over some righteous song, she’ll scare the shit out of you. And you’ll know — you’ll swear — that she’s still the best fuckin’ singer this fucked-up country has ever produced.
I love the way Staples describes Franklin’s voice going “all through you” and Preston couldn’t be more right in asserting “she’s still the best fuckin’ singer this fucked-up country has ever produced,” though I’d argue her talent stretches beyond national borders. She’s the best fuckin’ singer this fucked-up world has ever produced.
I learned from the tributes that came in after Aretha’s death that her friends and family called her by her nickname “Re,” which is what we also sometimes call my oldest. Those tributes often presented Aretha as someone who was both a global superstar diva and a caring, loving and approachable friend and family member. Franklin was a prominent proponent of Civil Rights, a champion of equality and fiercely loyal. She was loved not only by the countless listeners who heard her sing over the past half-century but by the people she was closest to, who relied on her for strength and guidance.
Earlier this month I saw a concert by another powerful musician that my daughters can look up to, Brandi Carlile. The singer-songwriter covered Aretha Franklin’s “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” and also played her own song “The Mother” about Carlile’s daughter Evangeline. There’s a lyric in that song that always makes me think of our decision to name our daughter Aretha. Carlile sings:
You are not an accident where no one thought it through
The world has stood against us, made us mean to fight for you
And when we chose your name we knew that you’d fight the power too
I wrote before, we chose the name Aretha because it came with power and strength and beauty and grace because those were the character traits that defined The Queen Of Soul. It’s why she, Aretha, was the queen, because she ruled our souls with an unmatched conviction and spirit that transcends across generations and will for generations to come.
Rest easy, Aretha. Your amazing grace and uncompromising spirit are as eternal as your voice.