In Memory of Aretha Franklin: The Queen of Soul and Shade

The heavens welcomed another angel into its midst as the world mourned the passing of the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin who succumbed to her battle with cancer at 76-years-old. To say her passing was a lost to the culture and every lover of authentic soul music is an understatement. A multi-genre singer with a catalog of music that continues to stand the test of time, this is a woman whose music (much of which she wrote and composed herself) was the backdrop and soundtrack of our lives. “Natural Woman,” “Daydreaming,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” whatever your mood or situation Aretha had a song for you. With a range that few singers today and of yesterday can mirror, she was the original diva, and rightfully so fully embraced her seat at the G.O.A.T. table. In a nutshell, this was a woman I truly loved.

As a black child who grew up in black household, I was pretty much destined to be introduced to Aretha Franklin at an early age and eventually fall in love with her. I remember waking up on Saturday mornings to the tune of “Chain of Fools” or “Natural Woman,” wondering what man could evoke such emotion from a single person. I remember watching in awe as she effortlessly belted out Luciano Pavarotti’s “Nessum Dorma” at the 1998 Grammy Awards, and laughing hysterically as she immortalized some of today’s biggest female artists with two simple words, “beautiful gowns.”

You see, not only could Ms. Franklin sing her behind off and have us all searching the call log for a “Dr. Feelgood,” but she also served the best shade at a moment’s notice. Not the chuckle-worthy, tongue-in-cheek shade, but the raw, unfiltered kind, known to sting just a little while leaving us all yearning for the age of 50-years-old which is my self-assigned official age to say, shade and do whatever we want because I’m black, grown and have lived.

So, in honor of Aretha Franklin, a true American royal and one of the best to ever do it, here’s just a few reasons why the Queen of Soul will forever reside in our hearts and minds.

Her range was ridiculous.

Photo by Jan Persson/Redferns

As a Baptist choir kid, I’ve come to appreciate a good soprano and the whole-lot-of-something it takes to hit the notes Aretha would hit. According to music scholars Aretha was a four-octave singer which basically means she’s been shi**ing on singers everywhere for decades.

She could read a man like no other.

A lady of mysterious sorrow, hell hath no fury like an Aretha Franklin song. If you ever need a drinking soundtrack for all the men who have done you wrong, play Aretha. “You’re no good heartbreaker. You’re a liar and you’re a cheat.” I mean, who done it and why? While Aretha was known to be tight-lipped about her romantic life, it’s rumored that her first husband Ted White was the inspiration behind some of her best and most scathing songs.

She also penned some of the greatest love songs ever.

I dare you to listen to “Call Me” and not come out of it in your feelings. There’s few singers who can channel both hurt and love so tenderly and accurately, however Aretha did both flawlessly. Got someone you can’t stop thinking about, “Daydreaming.” Got someone who just put it on you real real good? “Dr. Feelgood.” Got someone who breaks you down to your most vulnerable forms of womanhood? “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.”

Her shade was epic.

Aretha defined the petty principles. She was the no-nonsense grandma most black people had, with no f**ks, not an ounce, to give to the world and our lowly feelings. And like the queen that she is, she did it with so much grace and ease that it could only be second (possibly first) nature due to its facility. For example, there was that time she got cousin Dionne Warwick all the way together with a simple fax. Oh, and she also said she was too busy to be Whitney Houston’s godmother. A real one at its finest.


THEN, there was the best of times in which she flat-lined Taylor Swift and gave us one of the greatest moments in black history when she summarized the Colonizer singer with four simple words, “great gowns, beautiful gowns.” Side Note: Whenever you have 10 minutes to spare, please watch Aretha’s WSJ Live interview in its entirety, as it’s 10 glorious minutes of Aretha having no time, tolerance nor interest in any of it. Also watch this video of her shadiest moments and be prepared to fall deeper in love with the singer.

She would shade you and then send you into a Baptist fit.

If the stage was her comfort zone, the church was her home. Daughter of famed pastor Rev. C.L. Franklin, Aretha epitomized gospel music in every sense of the word. Her 1972 album “Amazing Grace” is one of the greatest commercially selling gospel records of all time, and her rendition of “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” is guaranteed to leave you in a pool of your own tears and feelings.

She had, what I imagined, was a great love life.

You don’t write “Dr. Feelgood” if someone isn’t doing their job. Sam Cooke, Dennis Edwards, Glynn Turman, Muva had some fun and I’m here for it all.

The voice never wavered.

WASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 08: Aretha Franklin performs onstage at BET Honors 2014 at Warner Theatre on February 8, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Larry French/BET/Getty Images for BET)

Come weight gains and losses, marriages and decades, Aretha’s voice remained as pristine as ever until the end.

Ms. Franklin, you were a class act and the best to ever do it. I hope to impact the world in just a fraction of the way you have left your influence, spirit and talent with us. May your rest be in peace and may your shade reign forever more.

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