Growing up, one of the first songs that I knew was considered a classic was Aretha Franklin’s “Respect”. It remains a staple in each and every person’s musical catalog. If you had ears and they worked well enough, you knew how powerful Aretha Franklin’s voice was and there was no way in denying that — if you did, it would be blasphemy. Franklin’s voice stood the test of time and that was what made her such a staple. She was the pinnacle of talent. She was known as the Queen of Soul. She will live on as a legend because that is what she is.
Her loss is already affecting millions of people, both in and out of the music industry. Generations of fans, adored listeners, friends, and family have been praying, hoping, and waiting with bated breath for good news on Franklin’s health. A private woman by nature, her struggles weren’t often made public, but that doesn’t mean people weren’t noticing a cancelled show here and there, less touring, and a more frail stature. Aretha and her music shaped so many lives as she was always there for us, teaching the world about R&B, soul, gospel, strength, and perseverance. Seeing her age only proved that she wasn’t as immortal as we all hoped and even began to believe.
It was clear that Aretha could make anything sound phenomenal with that voice of hers working hand-in-hand with the music that was found deep in her heart. “Respect” wasn’t even her song, although I could safely say that almost every person who knows it, knows it because of her version of it. Her 1967 song of the 1965 Otis Reading track took her budding career and pushed it right over the edge, dropping her right into the fiery pit of fame; which was more than well deserved. Nobody questioned her stellar talent, her persistent nature or her vibrant personality. It was evident in everything she put her mind to, from music to movies to activism.
“Respect” quickly became an anthem for the Sixties feminist movement and for many more years to come. It worked well in its time — although it is truly timeless — bringing a focus on dignity, gender equality, and civil rights. Franklin herself was not only the first woman of color to be inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but the first woman. That’s right, Aretha Franklin was the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She was also (at the time) the youngest person to receive the Kennedy Center Honors award. Winning 18 Grammy Awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award, receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and being presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005, Franklin truly earned the title of the Queen of Soul 10 times over.
The music industry needs a Queen to keep it sane, keep it in check. No, not Beyoncé. She can have her title, but Aretha Franklin had it first. She was an influential aspect of the Sixties that deserved every ounce of praise, love, and “Respect” that she was given over these five decades. Our former president’s social media post perfectly sums up our feelings — and everyone’s feelings — about this tragic day and even more tragic loss. “Aretha helped define the American experience. In her voice, we could feel our history, all of it and in every shade — our power and our pain, our darkness and our light, our quest for redemption and our hard-won respect. May the Queen of Soul rest in eternal peace.” – Barack Obama via Twitter.
Rest in peace, Aretha. Thank you for your talent, your passion, your intelligence, your soul, your heart, and of course, the classic songs and mesmerizing sound that only you could give to us.