When I heard of Aretha Franklin’s failing health I tried to clam my ears shut. It was too much to swallow at the start of the working week. When I happened upon a bonus episode of the New Yorker Radio Hour at lunch however I couldn’t help drifting down memory lane. In the six-minute segment, David Remnick muses on the enormity of her legacy — you can read all about the Queen in his extensive write-up here).
Remnick remembers an infamous video featuring the Queen of Soul surprising Carole King with a rendition of her own song (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman. Watching it again made me weak at the knees. The seventy-three year old Franklin is transcendent, dressed in a floor-length mink coat as she brings the house — including an awe-struck President Obama — to tears.
As Remnick eloquently puts it, the Queen marries "Sunday morning and Saturday night, gospel and the blues, all in a voice and a style to make it seem like she’s got the divine right to her title."
Franklin was the daughter of C.L. Franklin, one of the most charismatic and important preachers of his time. She grew up with Art Tatum on the piano, Duke Ellington at the dinner table and B.B. King stopping by to pay his respects. By the age of fourteen, Franklin was on the road singing gospel with her father and recording her first iterations of the blues. As Franklin once commented: "Music does a lot of things for a lot of people. It’s transporting, for sure. It can take you right back, it’s uplifting, it’s encouraging, it’s strengthening.”
As she resides in hospice care, surrounded by family and friends in her native Detroit, it helps to plug yourself into one of her records. While Franklin may be enjoying her last days on this earth, her inimitable voice will carry on, growing brighter and bolder with the legacy of a life well lived.