| By Debra Kirby |
I’m typically not an impulsive person, but two things in recent years that I’ve done on impulse have been because of Aretha Franklin — buying concert tickets and pre-ordering a music CD. Driving to work one day three years ago I heard a radio ad for an upcoming concert. As soon as I could get to my computer, I ordered tickets for me and my fellow Aretha Franklin fan Katy Rodriguez, my 25-year-old niece. Every living generation was represented at that August 22, 2015 concert, one of Aretha’s last, held at Detroit’s Chene Park. It was an evening that Katy and I both cherish. The second impulsive act was pre-ordering Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics CD after hearing her sing “Rolling in the Deep” on the Today show. I was blown away by the power of her voice and amazed at her energy at 70 years plus! When the song transitioned to “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” I got chills! I was late leaving the house that morning because I kept hitting rewind to listen again.
I am a Motown girl through and through. I grew up in Detroit in the 1950s and 60s, raised on that music. To this day, when asked what my favorite style of music is, my answer is Motown. My swim coach, Greg Luke, also grew up in Detroit, neighbor to many of the future Motown stars – his mother used to braid the young Diana Ross’s hair. I can’t get enough of his Motown stories! Technically, Franklin is not a Motown artist, but in my mind she is part of that musical tradition. In fact, Motown Records founder Berry Gordy recently referred to Aretha as part of his Motown family.
Like many Detroiters and others around the world, I’m in mourning over the loss of this uniquely talented woman. There has never been and never will be another Aretha Franklin. But I also celebrate her life and the gifts she shared with us. There are so many moving moments fans can point to, including her performance at the December 6, 2015, Kennedy Center’s Honors Ceremony attended by President and First Lady Obama, where she brought tears to the eyes of the president and others when she paid tribute to singer/songwriter and honoree Carole King by singing “Natural Woman,” which King co-wrote. Franklin played a role in U.S. history when she sang at the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1969 and at the inauguration of the county’s first African-American president in January 2009.
Franklin’s many awards and honors include 18 Grammy awards, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the National Medal of Arts. She was the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Rolling Stone Magazine named her the greatest singer of all time.
If you’d like to learn more about the life and songs of this music icon, check out her topic page in Gale’s Biography In Context, where you can listen to interviews, watch videos, and learn more about Aretha’s life and art.
To learn more about the history of Soul Music, see this U.S. History In Context article on the subject, which includes these quotes from Franklin: “For a singer, soul is total vocal freedom.” “Soul to me is a feeling, a lot of depth and being able to bring to the surface that which is happening inside. … It’s just the emotion, the way it affects other people.”
Banner Image: “Aretha Franklin Performs At Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony In New York.” UPI Photo Collection, 2009. Biography In Context, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CT4099911603/BIC?u=blog&sid=BIC&xid=8f71ed71. Accessed 17 Aug. 2018.