Seeing the Queen of Soul in concert was on the top of my bucket list and when I did almost eight years ago, there was no doubt she had earned/was born for that title. Time literally stood still as she sang hymns, hits, gospel and classical numbers with the same ease and then she sat down at that Ryman Auditorium piano and triumphantly conquered it, too. I thought if I die right now, I have no regrets!
Aretha Louise Franklin, the Queen of Soul, Ree, R-retha, the woman with the once-in-a-lifetime voice—whatever you called her, she was indescribable and unconquerable. In every performance she gave her all and left audiences in stunned amazement that one woman could be so talented, so incomprehensible, so phenomenal.
I don’t remember a time when Aretha wasn’t part of my life. Whether she was adding me to the chain of fools, saying a little prayer for me, making sure I got some R-E-S-P-E-C-T, or also loving some no good heartbreaker, I wanted to be like her. She wasn’t just a singer, she was the heart and soul of every song she touched. Yes, Paul Simon wrote Bridge Over Troubled Water but it was always Aretha’s and she’s the one I’d call if I needed a friend.
When I heard earlier this week that she was in” grave condition” and her family had been called in, I knew this day would come soon but I’m still not ready to let her go. Her death reminded me that it was that the Aretha’s Greatest Hits cassette that I wore out the summer of ’97 when I was trying to pass that statistics class at the University of Tennessee at Martin. Every day between Paris and Martin, TN, Ree sang her heart out and I prayed mightily for Professor Maurice Field’s mercy as he tried to help me understand and care about p-values, correlations, and significance.
She and the Rev. James Cleveland, the Southern California Mass Choir, and the Rev. C. L. Franklin have traveled thousands of miles with me via cassette, CD, and now through Sirius FM, and Pandora, so they can take credit for all my victories and defeats. The music always inspired, consoled, cajoled, encouraged and/or blessed my heart. Always.
The remembrances accompanying the announcement of her death have all touted her Civil Rights work with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., famous funerals where she sang, prestigious and presidential honors, but for me, the Ree I will cherish was so much more. One Detroiter tearfully said “she was like family,” and she was. Today I thank God for sharing her with us. Through her love for her family and all humanity, she made us and the world better. Now she’s depending on us to do our part. Amen.
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