Aretha Franklin: A Natural Woman

By Jennifer Allen

"Be your own artist, and always be confident in what you're doing. If you're not going to be confident you might as well not be doing it." ~ Aretha Franklin

On August 16, 2018 the world was given the sad news that the acclaimed Queen of Soul, Aretha Louise Franklin, had passed away. This was after a few days of hearing that she was in poor health and in hospice care in her home. The singer was only 76, but had been fighting cancer for a few years. While we saw it coming, her death is no less grim.

My mother was a huge fan of Aretha. I knew the lyrics to “Respect" “Chain of Fools" and “Natural Woman" at an early age thanks to her insistence. I didn't see the Blues Brothers movie until my teens, but I knew the soundtrack by heart by the time I was 10. Two songs from the film always stood out to me as my favorites. One was “Minnie the Moocher" sung by the late Cab Calloway. The other was “Think" by the Queen herself. The song was pretty straightforward with a woman telling her man that he needs to use his brain and realize the consequences if he leaves her.

You have to remember that the film came out when Women's Liberation was in full bloom, and both her powerful voice and presence (when I saw the movie later) made the song just that much more amazing.

The next time I heard and saw Aretha Franklin was during her 80's comeback. “Freeway of Love" was everywhere. Seeing her with the spiked hairdo and all the people dancing around her was certainly different but she made it work with that voice and her infectious smile. We all certainly wanted “to drop the panel and go" with her on that freeway.

My absolute favorite 80's song, though, was her duet with George Michael. “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)" couples two of my favorite voices into a really catchy song. You wouldn't think that the Queen of Soul and 'that guy from Wham!' would work well together, but their voices intertwined like milk and honey and created a truly amazing song.

I remember in college trying to sing “Respect" in a karaoke challenge. I knew the lyrics (obviously) without even needing to read the screen. However, my melody needed work. I ended up sounding so horrible that I didn't even attempt a second song. Truthfully I knew that only Aretha herself could pull that off, and never tackled it again.

But Aretha Franklin was not just about her music. She was also a pivotal figure for civil and women's rights. Sure her music was a big part of this, but she also worked with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr as her father was not only a friend of his, but also a large contributor to the Civil Rights March in Detroit in 1963.

Both men were a large influence on her life. She rallied to get UCLA's philosophy instructor, Angela Davis out on bail due to false charges. She sang at both Dr. King's funeral and Barack Obama's presidential inauguration. She refused to ever perform in front of a segregated audience.

“Through her compositions and unmatched musicianship, 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." ~ Michelle Obama

Her songs. Her voice. Her power. Aretha had some sort of clandestine aura about her that always made people stand up and take notice. She could take music, even if it was written by someone else… and make it into something unique. “Respect" was originally performed by Otis Redding, but she managed to make it her own by transforming it into the women's anthem we know today. Her 80's cover of “Jumping Jack Flash" for Whoopi Goldberg's film was nothing short of phenomenal as well. Her 1998 live performance of Puccini's “Nessun Dorma" (a piece that many Tenor opera singers attempt, and few perfect) proved that the Diva could do no wrong.

Suffice it to say, Aretha's absence is certainly disheartening, but the legacy she left behind is what we should cherish. She gave us her heart, her mind, and most importantly her soul. She was and will always be undoubtedly the Queen who filled our lives with her divine existence. Her voice was one that was not just heard, but felt. She proved that R-E-S-P-E-C-T is more than just a word.

Rest in peace Aretha. May your voice and spirit continue to bring joy to those residing wherever you are now.

--------

Jennifer Allen works at Saathee and is also a Podcaster, Blogger, Photographer & Graphic Artist.