Whether it was Gospel, Blues, Jazz, R&B, Pop or Civil Rights, Aretha Franklin was the greatest gift and the voice of a generation. “She could turn a song into a hymn,” Willie Nelson.
In my heart, I’m a DJ. I’ve been a DJ since I was sixteen. Over the years, I have spun vinyl, inserted CDs and loaded mp3 recordings for R&B, hip-hop, gospel, pop, standards, jazz, blues and alternative rock radio audiences. Out of all these genres of music and the incredibly unbelievable record-breaking artist that have defined, revolutionized and advanced the art of music, it is difficult to find an artist that has impacted generations more than The Queen, Aretha Louise Franklin. She is more than a musical artist; she is a Catalytic Icon whose passion for her craft exemplified pride, delivered generational declarations and championed social action.
“The greatest singer and musician of my lifetime. You’re my inspiration, my mentor and my friend,” Mariah Carey.
Making her first recording at the age of eight, Aretha Franklin’s regal persona has spanned two centuries. Her resume is flawless….
- The Presidential Medal of Freedom, the U.S.A.’s highest civilian honor (2005)
- Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the first woman to be inducted (1987)
- Eighteen GRAMMY Awards including a Legend Award (1991) and Lifetime Achievement Award (1994)
- United Kingdom’s Hall of Fame, the second woman to be inducted (2005)
- Gospel Music Association (GMA) Gospel Music Hall of Fame (2012)
- Kennedy Center Honoree (1994)
- United States Congress National Medal of Arts recipient (1999)
- Nine (9) honorary degrees
- Ranked #1 on the Rolling Stone Magazine’s “100 Greatest Singers” (2013)
- 112 charted singles including 17 top-ten pop singles and 21 number-one R&B singles
- Sold over 75 million records worldwide
“Your music set a standard for every single lady in this industry to rise to,” Gladys Knight
Aretha Franklin is the most influential artist of our time. Her zeal for her art helped birth some our favorite performers of the past forty years. Think about it… Whitney Houston heard the grace and humility in her voice that could raise the hair on the back of folk’s necks from all races, creeds and beliefs. Mary J. Blige saw the importance of sharing a real, relevant and rich story no matter how happy, unattractive or painful the story could be. Jennifer Hudson recognized that you must truly express your emotions in music so that you can develop an authentic connection with your audience. Fantasia realized that it was okay to bring your church foundation to the stage. Beyonce saw the power in music and its ability to inspire and encourage people. These artists saw a little bit of themselves in Aretha and they allowed those qualities to illuminate and influence their voices.
“She not only provided the soundtrack for the civil rights movement, Aretha’s music transcended race, nationality and religion and helped people from all backgrounds to recognize what they had in common,” said longtime civil rights leader the late Rev. Joseph E. Lowery.
Through her music, Ms. Franklin delivered statements that people identified with… she made anthems. The dictionary defines an anthem as a song of loyalty, devotion or uplift. Today, artists purposely attempt to write “anthems” so that their music will have a long shelf life and transcend times. However, Ms. Franklin just delivered words from her soul that transformed into anthems, “As a daughter of the movement, she not only used her voice to entertain but to uplift and inspire generations through songs that have become anthems,” said Dr. Bernice King daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Songs like Natural Woman, Young, Gifted and Black, Do Right Woman, Ain’t No Way, Lean On Me, I Never Loved a Man, Jump to It, and Think became words of inspirations, desires and demands for positive outcomes. Her biggest anthem, Respect, originally written and performed by Otis Redding, became the sound of the Civil Rights Movement and later the Feminist Movement and today still resonant for the #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo movements of today.
Born in Memphis, TN, Ms. Franklin’s career begins as a child singing gospel music in the choir at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, MI, where her father C.L. Franklin was the minister. Her father was one of many influential voices in the Civil Rights Movement organizing the 1963 Detroit Walk to Freedom which was the largest civil rights demonstration until the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom later that year led by Dr. King. The people, visuals and sounds of the Civil Rights Movement where a major influence for Ms. Franklin. At the age of 16, she began touring with Dr. King, as his musical guest and later begin lending her voice and financial support to the movement. As her fame rose in the 1960s, Aretha maintained her sense of activism by including in her contract that she performs for integrated audiences only. Even after the civil rights movement of the 60s, she has remained committed to the needs of social change. The late Congressman John Lewis said, “Aretha Franklin had a lifelong, unwavering commitment to civil rights and was one of the strongest supporters of the movement.”
Rest in R-E-S-P-E-C-T
“Aretha helped define the American experience. In her voice, we could feel our history, all of it and every shade- our power and our pain, our darkness and our light, our quest for redemption and our hard-won respect,” Barack Obama
In this age, the word icon is used generously. Aretha Franklin is beyond worthy of being called an icon; after all, she is The Queen. Earlier in the piece, I called her a Catalytic Icon because I believe we need to place some additional R-E-S-P-E-C-T on her name. Her musical resume represents nearly 70 years of experience – it speaks for itself. But I believe her true legacy is the stimulating influence that she has had on the voices that followed here, the ability to incite life and meaning into a lyric and the willingness to stand up for what is right all while maintaining her foundation of hope and faith. Stimulate… incite… willingness… unwavering; that is the definition of a catalysis. And, that is how I… WE should remember Aretha Louise Franklin. Long live The Queen!