Usually when a celebrity dies it doesn’t affect me much. I might briefly think that the news is sad when the death is announced, but that’s usually the end of it. However, I was moved when I heard that Aretha Franklin had past away at the age of 76. It’s only when a singer dies that we take in the magnitude of their life’s work and their contribution to the human experience.
When I was a teenager, I suffered a heartbreak which seemed catastrophic at the time. Of course, in hindsight, I see that it was an essential rite of passage to womanhood. My dad and I would often recommend music to each other, in fact he had a habit of bursting into my room brandishing a CD – it was the 90’s and 00’s before the advent of Spotify or iTunes. He would say ‘Love! You’ve got to listen to this!’ His taste was eclectic and he liked a lot of contemporary music. When I was mourning the loss of an adolescent love, he gave me A Rose is Still a Rose by Aretha Franklin. The title track is a sassy anthem to broken hearted young women everywhere. In the opening bars, Aretha speaks words of comfort to a girl who’s in pain. I still feel as though she’s talking to the 17-year-old me. Dad loved and respected strong women, and he brought me up to be determined and gritty. I still listen to that song when I want to remember that moment of sadness, which ultimately made me stronger.
I grew up listening to Aretha, to me she is music itself; if you don’t like Franklin, you don’t like music. Her voice expresses the deepest, most heart-wrenching grief, as well as the brightest joy life has to offer. Great singers provide a soundtrack to our lives and we feel as if they are right there with us throughout our tragedies and triumphs. When they die, it’s as though we’ve lost a loyal friend; someone who always understood us and knew just what to say at any given moment. Emotion seemed to flow through Aretha, as though she was a lightening rod for the human experience. Say a little Prayer and Natural Woman still evoke the heady feelings of real love I felt when I met my husband, nearly 16 years ago.
Every day recently I’ve woken up with one of Aretha’s songs in my head. It’s strange how good soul music penetrates one’s very being and becomes absorbed into our essential core. I’ve been wondering why music can be so powerful and I’ve concluded that it stirs the human heart and reminds you that you are not alone. The pain or joy that you are feeling now has been felt by many millions of others. We often make the mistake of assuming that we are on life’s long road unaccompanied, forgetting that there is a steady hand right there, ready to be taken if we are only to reach out for it. Aretha reminded us of what it is to be human, and no matter what you are going through, you can get through it.
Aretha Franklin was one of the last of the greats, there are few left who command the power and vulnerability that she did. She is, and always will be, the Queen of Soul.
Feature image via Twitter.