A Tribute to the Queen of Soul

Joe Robinson, Social Media Editor

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Described as the “Queen of Soul”, Aretha Franklin had a voice that could not be missed. Her intensely melodic voice and deep passion in her music gave her a voice that rang across the country and made ripples in the social segregation and tension of her time. On August 16, 2018, Franklin passed at the age of 76 due to Pancreatic cancer. However, her voice rings as loud today through her impact on the integration of black culture into a white America as it did at the peak of her career.

Franklin was born on March 25, 1942 to a family of gospel, with her father being the renowned Rev. C.L. Franklin. Growing up, she was surrounded by major influences on Gospel music, such as Sam Cooke and Mahalia Jackson, all visiting to see her father. With her mother being a pianist, her life largely revolved around music. Releasing her first album at the age of 14, titled Songs of Faith, Franklin was bound for an illustrious career in Gospel music. However, she chose an alternate path. Following in the footsteps of artist Sam Cooke, she took a veer towards pop music.

Her career continued to grow in secular music, but initially had trouble with her first record company, Columbia. She struggled for popularity, but, as said by label executive John H. Hammond, her past roots of gospel were stifled, and she was not able to express such roots properly. It was her transfer to Atlantic records in 1967 that lit the fire to her career. She was thus given the freedom to express her Gospel roots, and her career flourished. Through her music, she was able to infuse elements of her childhood, filled with music that defined much of African American culture at that time, and “threw back the curtain that had been segregation and showed the rest of America how black America took its joy” according to Thulani Davis, an African American studies scholar, on NPR.

However, she was not the first to achieve this, with artists such as Sam Cooke doing similar before her. According to Davis, what made Franklin unique was its relevance.

“It had to do with her taste in what songs to do, her sense of what time it was. The songs that she did in ’67, ’68 became anthems for all of us and for successive populations that were in the middle of sort of mobilizing themselves at that time” said Davis.

This is shown best through Franklin’s most popular song, “Respect”, which topped charts after its release.

From Franklin’s own autobiography she writes, “It was the need of the nation, the need of the average man and woman in the street, the businessman, the mother, the fireman, the teacher — everyone wanted respect.”

It was through this that Franklin began to represent something larger than her soulful voice, she began to represent a new opportunity to integrate black culture into the white world. Her Gospel roots and upbringings not only shaped her career, but it began to trickle its way into mainstream society, now keeping the influence alive through artists such as Elton John, John Legend, and Mariah Carey, all of which are open about the deep influence Franklin had on their work. It is through this that Aretha Franklin sings on.

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