Aretha Franklin: Queen for life and in death

Music’s greatest royal demanded ‘Respect’ — and earned it.

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Aretha Franklin before a 2015 performance at the White House (Photo: Pete Souza)

Down to earth but out of this world

I’ll always remember the way she was on that Monday night at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. She had a distinct and distinguishable regal air. She clearly knew she was somebody important (and if she hadn’t, the flashing lights of the photographers’ cameras no doubt would have reminded her), but she didn’t seem to presume that her celebrity put her above anybody there. She had no visible entourage, only Arista Records founder and president Clive Davis, the architect of Whitney Houston’s stardom who had redesigned Franklin’s for the ’80s and beyond, guiding her through the crowd.

Aretha’s gay connection

Celebrated as Franklin was and always will be among gay men (and everyone else), she never quite qualified as a gay icon. Perhaps that was partly because she wasn’t a diva in the fabulous big-hair-and-makeup sense. She wasn’t teased and polished to make her as palatable as possible to the black and white masses. Aretha’s look was always as unapologetically black as her sound. The only living superstar who comes close is Mary J. Blige.

The ultimate cover girl

Speaking of Aretha’s way with remakes, her gift for interpretation remains unparalleled by anyone who wasn’t/isn’t Ray Charles or Luther Vandross. Her cover of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “This Girl’s in Love with You,” a hit single for both Herb Alpert and Dionne Warwick, is both testimony and master class for students of soul who fantasize about taking ownership of someone else’s smash.

Spotify playlist 1: My Top 10 Aretha Franklin tracks that aren’t the obvious classics

Spotify playlist 2: My top 10 Aretha Franklin classics

Written by

Brother Son Husband Friend Loner Minimalist World Traveler. Author of “Is It True What They Say About Black Men?” and “Storms in Africa”

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