Aretha Franklin Celebrated Her Blackness

And inspired America to do the same

Upon hearing the news of Aretha Franklin’s death, a torrent of songs, memories, and emotions came to mind. My earliest memories of the Queen of Soul began with childhood visits to my grandmother’s house.

My paternal grandmother built, owned, and operated a boarding house and cafe in Lake City, Florida, a tiny, little town north of Gainesville. This was no small feat for a black woman. In the 1950s. In the south.

Just let that sink in for a minute.

“The cafe,” as we called it, had a black clientele because in those days Blacks traveling couldn’t rent rooms from motor lodges without getting harassed. Or worse. My grandmother and her cooking were the lifeblood of the cafe, and the jukebox filled with Rhythm & Blues hits by The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Supremes, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, a host of others, and of course, Aretha Franklin.

Over the upcoming days, we’ll hear all sorts of stories about Franklin, the making of her musics, and her influence on the nation and the world. I never knew her personally, but I held a deep appreciation for body of work.

Here are a few of Franklin’s hits that are my personal favorites—

№ 6: “I Say A Little Prayer”

Songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David penned “I Say A Little Prayer” (1968) originally for Dionne Warwick, but thanks to Franklin’s musical genius and inimitable vocal prowess, once she reworked another artist’s song, her cover always took the song to such another level that it far surpassed the original and instantly became her own signature song.

Aretha Franklin performs “I Say A Little Pray,” October 9, 1970.

№ 5: “Until You Come Back To Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do)”

A #3 hit on Billboard Hot 100 that also reached #1 on Billboard’s R&B chart. This was the first time that an artist held two spots in the top 10 simultaneously on two different charts.

№ 4: “Think”

During my college days, Auntie Ree made a cameo appearance as the singing waitress, Mrs. Murphy, in the John Landis’ film “The Blues Brothers.” Belushi, Ackroyd, and Landis went to bat against the studio (who wanted a more current group) and fought to have Franklin in the role. Her redux of her 1968 hit, “Think” added a-whole-nother layer of unbridled energy to the film and Franklin’s career.

Aretha Franklin performs “Think” in “The Blues Brothers,” 1979.

№ 3: “Freeway Of Love”

For those of you old enough to remember the 1980s, the shoulder pads, and the big hair, surely you remember Franklin’s fifteenth Top 10 hit from 1985, “Freeway of Love.” The track features Clarence Clemons from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. The song is simply infectious.

№ 2: “My Counry Tis Of Thee”

Aretha Franklin sang at the inaugural celebrations of President Jimmy Carter (1977), President Bill Clinton (1993, 1997), and at the inauguration ceremony of President Obama (2009). She

№ 1: “Respect”

Remember what I wrote earlier about Franklin taking a song and making it her own? That’s exactly what Franklin did with “Respect.” The song was written and performed by Otis Redding, but Franklin, in her genius, flipped the script — by changing the gender roles and point of view of the song —and made a hit for herself.

Aretha Franklin, “Respect” (1967)

Aretha Franklin is undoubtedly the most celebrated female vocalist of our time. Rolling Stone magazine named her the Greatest Singer of All Time. She was a woman who used her God-given talents and platform to bring awareness to racial equality, gender equality, and the betterment of humanity. And in unapologetically celebrating her blackness, Aretha Franklin inspired America to do the same by seeing the humanity in us all.

All hail the Queen of Soul. And may she rest in eternal peace.

Love one another.

Artist, author, accidental activist, & editorial dir of Our Human Family (http://www.ohfweekly.org and http://medium.com/our-human-family). Twitter: @clayrivers

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