HERstory: The Queen of Soul

Lauren Summers
Features Editor

Features_Lauren_Queen of Soul_Fred Seibert (Flickr)

PC: Lauren Summers

On Aug. 16, 2018, Aretha Franklin, also known as The Queen of Soul, passed away in her home in Detroit, Michigan. Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Franklin was destined to lead crowds. Her father was a Baptist preacher well known for his sermons, and her mother was a pianist and vocalist.

Franklin first started belting out tunes when she was around 10 years old. She began singing hymns at church, a place where many black singers from that era got their start. Eventually, her father began bringing her on gospel tours where she would sing at various churches.
By 14, Franklin had recorded the songs for her first small label album in 1956, which would be full of spiritual songs.

Eventually Franklin was discovered by the Columbia Records producer, John H. Hammond. Her first album of secular music was released by a major label in 1961.
Later that year, Franklin would become better known for her rendition of the song “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody” which landed in the Top 40 singles. Her dynamic and soulful voice put an electrifying twist to the original tune, an aspect that stuck out with much of her music.

The legendary singer would later move on to Atlantic Records for the next 12 years, under which some of her biggest hits were released. Songs like “Respect” skyrocketed Franklin to number one in both the R&B and pop charts.

“Respect,” which was originally written by Otis Redding, was dubbed by many as a sort of feminist anthem. The lyrics were originally sung by a man asking his wife for respect when he got home.

Other popular records by Franklin include “Ain’t No Way,” “I Say a Little Prayer,” “Oh Me Oh My (I’m a Fool for you Baby)” and “Angel.” Franklin’s voice had a knack of stealing the show with its intensity.

Not only did Franklin use the intensity of her voice for music, she also used it in the struggle for civil rights. She was known for donating money to civil rights groups and performing benefit shows.
Franklin was also a strong supporter of Angela Davis, a social activist, who was jailed in the 70’s. Franklin once said to Jet magazine, “I’m going to see her free if there is any justice in our courts, not because I believe in communism but because she’s a black woman and she wants freedom for black people.”

Franklin also was a supporter of Native American and First Nation rights, including the  movements that supported their rights.

It was noted that when Franklin sang at Barack Obama’s inauguration, she did not sing “The Star Spangled Banner.” Instead, she sang “My Country ’Tis of Thee.” It was a subtle reminder that this country was for her and marginalized groups everywhere as much as it was for anyone else.

According to The New Yorker, Obama said of Franklin, “Nobody embodies more fully the connection between the African-American spiritual, the blues, R. & B., rock and roll—the way that hardship and sorrow were transformed into something full of beauty and vitality and hope.”

Franklin, for me, was always someone whose voice moved me to tears. The ballads she sang with so much strength in her voice are nearly impossible for me not to feel it in my spirit.

Although the Nation mourns the The Queen of Soul, her voice will live on. Whether it be in song or in truth, Franklin left her timeless legacy and mark on us all.

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