Sitting in my living room, I felt frozen in time and defeated by shock. Aretha Franklin’s death sent a wave of grief across the world that is still felt today, with farewell and funeral plans continuing this week. Greater Grace Temple in Detroit will host a home going for Franklin on Friday featuring addresses from Bill Clinton, Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton.
Franklin’s strong and compelling vocals touched and captured the hearts of many. Although she was most notable for her musical talents, to me she meant so much more. For me, as a black woman who came from a similar background and grew up in a church, her music was something I could connect with on a personal and — even more so — spiritual level.
Beyond just my admiration for Franklin’s ability to perfectly blend classic blues, a little bit of “good ole” church and pure soul, I found myself loving being a black woman more.
Her hit single “Respect” embodied a woman who knew her worth and refused to be treated any less. At the age of six, I remember feeling automatically empowered, dancing in my living room and screaming the lyrics at the top of my lungs, though not knowing at the time the true meaning of the song. As I grew older, I began to understand the time period and the powerful effects of Franklin’s music. Whether on- or off-stage, her voice was heard and unparalleled.
Franklin was a prominent figure during the Civil Rights Movement. She accompanied the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on the Walk to Freedom tour in her hometown of Detroit. Her voice and spirit did more than just entertain — they inspired past generations and continue to, today. She had the honor of performing at three presidential inaugurations — her most notable being that of former President Barack Obama. On the day of her death, Obama tweeted, “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.” His tweet was a precise summary of how many individuals felt in regards to her death.
Franklin doesn’t hold the title “Queen of Soul” for no reason. She recorded a number of Billboard No. 1 songs, received 18 Grammys out of 44 Grammy nominations and in 1987, made history by becoming the first female inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She paved the way for notable artists such as Whitney Houston, Patti LaBelle, Mariah Carey and Beyonce, and that’s just to name a few. She embodied the essence of pure soul, power and grace.
The Queen may have died, but her soulful legacy lives on. Her empowerment of women — especially black women — along with her work and love for her people will continue to touch the souls of generations to come. May a truly phenomenal woman rest in power.
Mya King is a sophomore political science and African American studies major from Enterprise.