If there was ever an artist who was authentic, who was true to her roots, it was Aretha Franklin. I had never heard anyone sing like Aretha; when her "I Ain't Never Loved A Man", was released, a new freedom of expression came to the fore in American culture. To say it spread around the world like a musical fire, is an understatement. Not since the days of singers like Ma Rainy, Bessie Smith and to a great extent, Billie Holiday, had an artist latched onto her feelings with the depth of human heartbreak and joy so openly.
You listened to Aretha and you became her heartbreak. As an inexperienced teenager, I understood for the first time that it was possible to love a man deeply and sadly, bemoaning the way he treated you, but still wait for him to come home, with burning desire.
Her "Chain of Fools" tore through the hearts of girls and women, realizing they were not the only one, but one of a chain of fools. I learned that If a man wanted a "do right woman, he needed to be a do right man".
I learned deep in my own emotions that there was a wildness in my heart and soul that I might have never experienced if I had not listened to Aretha sing out with strength, confidence and strangled or guttural solutions to feeling in a song. She sang tenderly or she could burn the civility off of relationships, like a real natural woman, who would not lay down in submission to a non-deserving fellow.
Aretha had guts. She also had timing and great blessing, which pushed her out into the public at a time when sweetness and light shone heavily still in the music scene. Things would never be the same after Aretha showed the world of polished singers that the raw soul could be traversed with musicianship, deep emotion, feeling, joy and passion. Her range was mighty; she was a proper soprano, with a terrific ear, playing a funky and jazzy piano, with churchy inflections.
Not since Ray Charles, and James Brown had a singer crossed the genres, colorlines, geography of feeling and remained so authentically black. Only when Prince and Donny Hathaway came along later did that unique depth of epic quality come around again.
I was overjoyed during the tributes to Aretha, to learn the Queen of England had approved the Welsh Band to play "Respect" at her Changing of the Guards, outside Buckingham Palace. I think Aretha would had loved that one.
Thank you Queen of Soul for your joy and sorrow, shared equally, through your magical talent. We are none of us worthy.
Scherrie Payne & Susaye Greene formerly of The Supremes with Joyce Vincent rehearse their tribute to "The Queen of Soul" Ms. Aretha Franklin.