Aretha Franklin, a pioneer of R&B and Gospel music and who rightly earned the title of Queen of Soul, died today at her home in Detroit after a battle with pancreatic cancer, according to CNN. She was 76.
The death of Franklin signifies an end to a life that was rich and robust, as colorful and full of memorable musical art as the woman herself. For over six decades, the singer’s instantly recognizable voice stretched to the emotional stratosphere and she became a titan not only in music, but provided a soundtrack, especially in her early superstar years, for a turbulent civil rights movement that was just at its peak during the late 1960s.
Born in Memphis, TN, and raised in Detroit, MI, she influenced scores of artists in her wake with her upfront, sincere, and confident style vocally and musically. Surrounded by the best stable of session players on almost every single one of her classic songs (people like King Curtis, Ray Charles, Jerry Jemmott, and Bernard Purdie), and being an accomplished piano player herself, Franklin trail blazed a gold standard for all who followed her and provided musical templates and blueprints for each and every artist who has taken something from her, and that would pretty much include almost everyone.
From “Respect” to “Chain of Fools” to “Think” to “Rock Steady” and “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman,” there is an electricity from first note to last, a kind of only-she-could-do-it style and verve and most importantly, swagger. Even the way she sang, the style in her physical presentment, also elevated the songs and took them to a higher league within themselves and created a kind of rush of emotions felt by her and then transmitted to the listener.
Every stripe of person, regardless of their personal taste of genre, could not avoid or be immune to the emotional wallop one gets from most of Franklin’s catalog, and it’s that rare pool that she and a few scant others (Billie Holiday, John Lennon, Bob Marley, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, to name a few) belong to. As a musician, she had scores of hits on the Billboard chart and was the first woman admitted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Whether it be her aforementioned hits or even the songs during what some called her “comeback” in the 1980s, when she turned that generation onto what she was and the living legend she had become at that point with songs like “Freeway of Love” and the memorable duet with George Michael “I Knew You Were Waiting,” there was always comfort in knowing Aretha Franklin was in the world. It was crystallized in peak form when she sang at Barack Obama’s First Presidential Inauguration in 2009, memorably akin to the days when Marian Anderson sang for Presidents in the early part of the 20th Century, Mr. and Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt most notably.
Another one of her most memorable performances was not even on record but on film, in 1980’s The Blues Brothers, in which she did a rousing and highly memorable version of “Think.” And although she was only on screen for a scant 15 minutes or so, she was able to showcase her entire bag of tricks in that glorious musical number. She also appears in the 1998 sequel Blues Brothers 2000, where she performed her classic “Respect.”
In the days before and now in the days following her tragic passing, there will be a swell of tributes pouring in from sources high and low, luminaries and regular Joe’s on social media message boards, all trumpeting and singing the praises of the genius of her craft, and rightfully so. And the common thread is the music of course, the adoration for the music, whether one knows of only the greatest hits, which really are some of the finest American song hits in history, or the expansive catalog that spans decades of her music (a personal favorite being the 1971 Aretha Live at Fillmore), the emotional bonds Aretha Franklin gave us with her music, art, and craft are immeasurable and forever lasting, R-E-S-P-E-C-T now, always and forever.
RIP Aretha Franklin
March 25, 1942 – August 16, 2018
Respect – Aretha Franklin (Live)
Aretha Franklin – Won’t Be Long – Steve Allen Show – 1964
Aretha Franklin – Think (feat. The Blues Brothers)
Aretha Franklin – Respect (Blues Brothers 2000)
Aretha Franklin Performs at the Inauguration of President Obama