This week, we lost an icon. Aretha Franklin died at the age of 76. Any time that a celebrity passes away, we always reminisce about their lives. But we also think about our own lives and how that particular person had an impact or even played a role. Many of you probably think about “Respect” when you hear her name. I, however, think about some of her other songs. “Son of a Preacher Man” was a staple in my household. Mostly because my father was the son of a minister, so on some level, it resonated with me more deeply. It doesn’t stop there though. “I Say a Little Prayer” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” was a song that I latched onto while I was growing up.
Franklin, of course, had her own life and was singing songs that emotionally resonated with her. But the thing is the way that we will remember her is how she touched our own lives. I think that regardless of where you’re from, you will have some kind of memory associated with Franklin. I am too young to have listened to Franklin’s music during the time that it was popular, but it no doubt holds a special place in my heart.
Franklin once said, “I sing to the realists. People who accept it like it is”. I think, accepting life “as is” is a hard thing for many of us to do. Can we use her passing as a reminder that life might be difficult, but by wishing it to be otherwise, doesn’t necessarily make it any easier. I also think that this idea was what made her even stronger. One of her greatest strengths was her voice. The sheer power of how she sang the words, or even how she delivered a performance was second to none. It’s this reason that she was the Queen of Soul.
This was apparent even on the Johnny Carson show in 1964. The show was live, with no producers or anyone to electronically protect or modify her voice. Many performers today don’t have this ability, and that’s why they often shy away from recording live. Franklin, however, did have the voice and she performed in front of a live audience without any editing. What she showed us was her ability to hit those notes and send a chill down the spin of someone watching her through the TV.
In 2015, Franklin did this again during a performance at the Kennedy Center, where she sang “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”. President Barack Obama wiped tears from his eyes at the beauty of not only her singing but of her soul.
Franklin always had a sense of humor, noting that she didn’t look the same as she once did, but that didn’t change the sound of her voice or her tenacity. I said earlier that we lost an icon this week. But maybe the word icon is understating the impact that she played in all of our lives. There is some solace in the fact that her voice will always be one click away. That doesn’t diminish what we will feel in the wake of her passing. I think I speak for many Americans, and people worldwide when I say: Aretha, “forever and ever, you’ll stay in my heart”.