Celebrating The Queen Of Soul

I was terribly saddened by the news today of the death of Aretha Franklin, at age 76.  I’ve written before of my thoughts on this titanic talent, who had a voice that comes once in a generation.  It’s a terrible loss for American music, and for America generally.

I remember listening to Aretha Franklin on the radio when I was a kid, and in fact the very first record I ever bought — a 45, for those old enough to remember such a thing — was an Aretha Franklin record.  Back in those days the popular music stations were a lot more inclusive, and on the AM dial you could hear the Beatles, followed by an Aretha tune, followed by Cream or Crosby, Stills & Nash, or one of the many one-hit wonders of the ’60s, and then the Temptations or the Four Tops.  Unlike today, music wasn’t stratified and packaged into heavy metal stations or hip-hop stations — AM radio played it all.  And once you heard an Aretha Franklin song, even on a scratchy AM radio, you inevitably became an Aretha Franklin fan.  Her voice was just so great, and warm, and her presence was just so powerful, that you couldn’t resist it.

Many people associate Aretha Franklin with R-E-S-P-E-C-T, or Chain of Fools, but I think my favorite song is Baby, I Love You,  I’ve linked to a bad video quality YouTube clip of that song below, but who really cares about the video quality when you’re talking about Aretha Franklin?  It was her voice and her humanity that was transcendent.

And, speaking now as a 61-year-old, I think death at 76 came much too young.

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The Queen Of Soul Drops The Mike

Aretha Franklin has told a Detroit TV station that she plans to “retire” this year, after a new album is released.  It’s not entirely clear what her retirement will mean, practically, because she says she’ll still be available to perform now and then.  Basically, she wants to spend time with her grandchildren before they head off to college.

I hope the Queen of Soul doesn’t fully drop the mike, because she’s simply irreplaceable.  Of all the great female R&B and soul singers of the ’60s and ’70s — and there were a lot of them — Aretha Franklin was without peer.  Once she sang a song she made it her own, and there was just something about the tone, and timbre, of her voice that could reach into your chest and grab your heart.  Listen to any of her great recordings from the ’60s and you’ll be amazed at how fresh and stunning they still sound, 50 years later.  I’ve provided two vintage videos, one from the ’60s and another from the ’70s, that I think make the point.

I hope Aretha Franklin gets to spend that time with her grandkids, but I also hope she’ll continue to give some of her time to the rest of us.