Because of my background as a journalist whose assignments included interviewing icons of sports and entertainment, I never considered myself much of a fan. I kept it professional.
In total transparency, there are exceptions.
In the world of athletics – though more for what he stood for – I do continue to salute the life and works of Muhammad Ali. In the music industry, there are a few. The first, the fabled Temptations. No explanation needed. The second is the incomparable Lena Horne, my favorite one-on-one interview of all time. The third, Michael Jackson.
And the final person relegated to “superstar” status in my mind – the legendary ARETHA FRANKLIN.
Baby boomers and legions of music enthusiasts of every ilk agree that the height of the 60s, 70s and 80s rhythm and blues era easily ranks as the pinnacle of the recording industry in America. No artist earned higher acclaim over that musical zenith than the incomparable Franklin.
Nobody disputes her claim to irrefutably assuming the throne as the Queen of Soul. Perhaps the late, great Ray Charles with whom she occasionally collaborated put it best: Charles said, “There are singers, there is Aretha. She towers above the rest. Others are good, but Aretha is great.”
In a brilliant career that has spanned more than five decades, Aretha Franklin recorded 20 songs that reached No. 1 on the music charts. During her career, she earned an amazing 18 Grammy Awards.
Aretha first recorded in the spring of 1957. True to her roots in the church where her talent emerged, in the church of her father Reverend C.L. Franklin, Aretha’s first two singles were gospel. Her last live performance was in 2017, an astounding 60 years later.
Her classics include, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” “Do Right Woman,” “Chain of Fools,” “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)” – which she wrote – and “I Say A Little Prayer for You.”
At ease with gospel, blues, jazz, pop, up tempo or soul ballad, no recording artist can touch the versatility of the eclectic vocals of Aretha Franklin.
She could just as easily captivate audiences with sweet, romantic tunes like “Daydreaming” and “Call Me” as she can jar listeners with the “in-your-face” hits like, “Dr. Feel Good,” “Think” and her definitive rendition of “Respect.”
Songs by Aretha that achieved global acclaim included “Freeway Of Love,” “Jump To It,” “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me),” her worldwide chart-topping duet with George Michael, and “A Rose Is Still A Rose.”
In her brilliant career, Aretha sold more than 75 million records.
Aretha transcended the music industry. She was an American institution. Among her many honors, Aretha received the highest honor that can be bestowed on a civilian in the U.S., the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded by President Barack Obama.
In a monumentally respectful music industry, Aretha has received a myriad of honors including both the Grammy Lifetime Achievement and Grammy Living Legend award. She holds the distinction of being the first female inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Rolling Stone magazine ranks Aretha No. 1 on the list of “Greatest Singers of All Time.”
Aretha performed at inaugurations of both President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama. She has film and television credits. She is a genuine, bonfire diva of international renown and a jewel of the African American community. Her music has provided a soundtrack for the story of Black America. Aretha is all that!
We are never ready to have less of, or lose our giants. Reality is unyielding, devoid of our emotions. But the passion stirred by the music of Aretha Franklin is indelibly etched into the hearts of all who ever heard her golden voice. Without Aretha, there would have been a gaping hole in the soul of America.
We are blessed to have lived in her time. But what Aretha has given to the world lives in perpetuity, braced to grace unborn generations. Thank you, Aretha. We love you.
Long live the Queen!