Thank you, Aretha Franklin (1942-2018)!
Thank you for Respect, and so much more!
Thank you for your voice. A song is much more than a song. And Franklin tapped into tone, texture, lyrics, and more for all sorts of messages and meanings. As Simon Frith notes, it’s not just what singers sing, “but the way they sing it.” And Franklin’s voice–her Respect–isn’t just a voice, but a voice that embodies self-respect, and therefore demands and commands self-other respect.
Thank you for your spirit. Franklin’s regal-ness shown through each and every appearance, performance, and recording. Yet, her overwhelming joy in life, as expressed through her appearances, performances, and recordings, helped listeners experience the thrill of the moment and beyond; helped listeners understand and appreciate a sense of freedom; helped listeners engage with the values of feminism; helped listeners tap into their sexuality; and helped listeners feel love.
Thank you for your activism. Whether it was to lend support or a song to a cause, you were there.
Franklin’s 76 years on Earth bookended a grand arc of tumult, letdowns, progress, setbacks, terror, and hope in American history. That in itself might not be a remarkable feat so much as a reminder that all black people older than 53 have seen and lived through hell. But Aretha—and that first name is sufficient, as it was in black churches and parlors for half a century—was an architect of a movement as much as a witness to it. She toured with the actors Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier to raise money for King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1967, when the organization was in dire financial straits and was attempting to embark on a Poor People’s Campaign. She was an activist who strained to keep a movement going even after King’s assassination, and who worked to support the Black Panthers and attempted to post bail to free the activist Angela Davis from jail. She loved black people. In this country, that simple fact was radical enough.
But most importantly, thank you for being YOU!
Ms. Franklin’s respect lasts for two minutes and 28 seconds. That’s all — basically a round of boxing. Nothing that’s over so soon should give you that much strength. But that was Aretha Franklin: a quick trip to the emotional gym.
Music educators, as you start to plan out your school year: How will you celebrate Franklin’s voice, her passion, and her ability to stand up for each and all?