Queen of Soul Now Reigns in Heaven

K Gerard Thomas

August 16, 2018, will be written down in history as one of those historical moments when people will ask where you were when the “Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin passed away. Her music will forever transfer her listener to a special place and time from dancing in a Holy Ghost sprit filled church to dancing in a Soul Train line no matter where you were her music was the sound of America.

She succumbed to pancreatic cancer at the age of 76 while surrounded by family and friends in her home in Detroit Michigan, over last week she was visited by Stevie Wonder and others who wanted to give their honor to a woman who was the voice of change in America that stretched across the globe.  

Aretha Louise Franklin was born on March 25, 1942, in Memphis Tennessee she was the third of four daughters of the well renowned Baptist minister Reverend CL Franklin and his wife Barbara who was a gospel singer in her own right.

The family picked up stakes and moved to Detroit Michigan, when little Aretha was at the age of six she began playing the piano and singing in her father’s church, unfortunately, her father and mother had issues due to his alleged multiple affairs, Barbara Franklin moved to Buffalo New York and she passed away at an early age of 34 of a heart attack.

Her father pastored a church in Detroit Michigan which would become the Mecca of soul music in the late fifties and sixties, it was her exposure to Gospel music that was her introduction to the world. Aretha made her debut as early as a child but her first master recording took place at the age of 14, her rendition of Thomas A Dorsey’s “Precious Lord” was masterful.

Like Pattie La Belle, Gladys Knight, Whitney Houston and so many more the church was the foundation to greatness in blues, jazz, rock & roll, rhythm & blues even country which all owe their sound to gospel music.

Aretha never left her roots it was an integral part of who she was and it was the sounds of Sam Cooke that motivated her to take a step into the secular music market, after all, he was a former lead singer of the “Soul Stirrers” a gospel group who gained more fame after their lead singer went solo.

Aretha traveled with her father and met the Queen of Gospel music Mahalia Jackson and Sam Cooke and since her father active in the civil rights movement she traveled with Dr. Martin Luther King JR.

When Aretha was ready to begin her transition from gospel to the contemporary secular music she scouted a few record companies and of course Motown was on the list, having grown up with Motown artist such as Smokey Robinson who was only three year apart in age.  It is assumed that Berry Gordy did not sign Aretha because her sound was to Gospel and Motown was trying to crossover.

Columbia Records signed her but they produced no hits, she then signed with Atlantic Records and the hits began to flow from 1967 to the mid-seventies such hits as “Respect”, which was first written and recorded, by Otis Redding “Natural Woman”, I say a Little Prayer, Chain of Fools, “Think”, Baby, I Love You, Rock Steady, "Day Dreaming," “Spanish Harlem” and the Sparkle Album. 

After the assignations of Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968, Aretha sang at his funeral and it may have been that moment that impressed upon her a need to return to her roots of gospel, in 1972 she released a live concert album “Amazing Grace’

In 1980 Aretha costarred in the smash motion picture comedy the “Blues Brothers” a film that reintroduced her 1960s hit “Think” the film starred former “Saturday Night Live” alumni Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi it featured James Brown ( the God Father of Soul ) Aretha Franklin, Cab Calloway, and Ray Charles.

By the eighties Aretha was making new hits for the new wave of fans such as “Who's Zoomin' Who," "Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves" (with Eurythmics) "Freeway of Love, "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)" (with George Michael) of course this was the tip of the iceberg.

Aretha Franklin was the first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame; Ms. Franklin was a Kennedy Center Honoree under the Clinton administration she also performed at his Inauguration as well as Jimmy Carter’s. In 2005 she received the presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W Bush 2005 it is the highest civilian medal, she received an honorary doctorate from Harvard University.

CNN states that “One of her more notable inauguration performances, however, came in 2009 when she performed "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" at the inauguration ceremony for President Barack Obama”.

Aretha left a mark on so many lives over the years and her voice stood alone as one of the most powerful in modern history, she could sing everything including opera, her sound told a story that is most commonly known as the black experience that did not discriminate all were welcomed to enjoy the Aretha experience.

She is survived by her four sons Ted White Jr, Clarence Franklin, Edward Franklin, Kecalf Cunningham and her only surviving sister Carl Ellan Kelley and grandchildren

America has no royalty. But we do have a chance to earn something more enduring. Born in Memphis and raised in Detroit, Aretha Franklin grew up performing gospel songs in her father’s congregation. For more than six decades since, every time she sang, we were all graced with a glimpse of the divine. 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. She helped us feel more connected to each other, more hopeful, more human. And sometimes she helped us just forget about everything else and dance.

Aretha may have passed on to a better place, but the gift of her music remains to inspire us all. May the Queen of Soul rest in eternal peace. Michelle and I send our prayers and warmest sympathies to her family and all those moved by her song.                                                                    

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Barrack Obama



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