How do you celebrate the life of a great voice that ruled the airwaves for many decades?
Aretha Franklin was that voice. It was ripe for the radio – and on stage. Every stage – from the church to President Barack Obama's first inauguration in 2009.
We lost the Queen of Soul on August 16. She died at the age of 76 of pancreatic cancer, surrounded by her family in Detroit. She may be missed in physical form, but her voice will remain a staple of radio for generations to come.
Why am I talking about Aretha Franklin? If any voice captured my soul – she was the first. She was more powerful than Diana Ross, more soulful than anyone else before and after her. She was part of my soundtrack. Most of the vehicles I have driven since obtaining my driver’s license had her voice imprinted on the speaker system.
Aretha’s voice was that powerful.
I must go back a few years. I was 6 when I listened to "Respect." Aretha’s 1967 single would be her iconic song. It was her anthem. Though originally Otis Redding's song, it became Aretha’s from the first note.
The hits came fast and strong. "Rock Steady" was a deep groove that she sang through – even with a horn section, an organ, and bass mixed in to perhaps compete with her voice. "Until You Come Back To Me (That's What I'm Gonna Do)" was originally recorded by Stevie Wonder. The story goes that he called her and offered the song to Aretha. It became my favorite song of 1974 – I was 10 years old.
She never had a "comeback." I heard people say that "Jump To It" was a "comeback." It wasn't. Granted, it was her first big commercial success at Clive Davis' Arista Records, but she was simply shifting her sound without compromising her voice – and the power behind that voice. Though some criticized the album for not fitting in with her sound, I beg to differ. An artist can transcend time. Aretha transcended time.
The album "Who's Zooming Who" was a staggering success for a middle-aged Queen of Soul. This album brought her closer to her admirers – who became collaborators. With George Michael on "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)," she bridged generations, races, nations, and humanity. With Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart – the Eurhythmics – she also found gold with two soulful voices singing on the virtues of women past and present.
Let me make one thing clear: you do not hear Aretha Franklin, you listen to her.
Being a Detroiter – grew up there in the 1950s, has been a permanent resident since 1982 – Aretha did create a paean to the industry that made her city great. "Freeway of Love" referenced the automobile romantically. The video for the song intermixed old films of Detroit and the auto industry, along with other shots in and around the city. For the car fan, this was Aretha's gift to you.
She will many gifts for us. Her music – first and foremost. Her presence – on screen or on stage – will always be iconic. She will always be on my dial. Rest in Peace, the Queen of Soul!