Aretha Franklin passed away today. The 76-year-old singer was more than her moniker alluded to. The Queen of Soul sang gospel, R&B, and even opera. She was not just a musician, but an individual whose voice blew away millions.
Since news of her placement in hospice care broke, video of Aretha Franklin singing to Barack Obama and Carole King at the Kennedy Center has been widely circulated on social media. It is the consummate Aretha Franklin video. When listening to her you could escape reality. Anyone could marvel at the sheer power of the singer’s voice and feel lost for a few minutes as she belted vocals.
Sometimes it was more than just power. She could also relay attitude. In “Think” and “Respect” there was no gray area about the intent of the song. You knew where Aretha stood because she translated the intent of the lyrics in such a blunt way.
Being terse is risky for an artist. Candid performance can be off-putting to an audience. For Aretha Franklin it was one of her gifts as a singer and the vehicle for some of her best-known work.
She could also relay a terrific feeling in her music. Songs like “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Loved You)” are incredible expressions of passion.
Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Julie Andrews, Amy Winehouse, Adele, and Florence Welch are popular artists whose voices have been otherworldly gifts to humanity. Each of those singers has their own unique talent. Their voices make the world feel something for different reasons. None of them matched the power and soul of Aretha Franklin.
My favorite Aretha Franklin song, “Spirit In The Dark,” is a great example of her style. The gospel-ish R&B song champions everything that music should be. The idea that some force is inspiring you dance to a groove works not only from a religious angle, but also musically. It is fitting that Franklin sang the track. She was a force whose voice could move people like no other.