An Unfortunate Silence in the Passing of an Amazing Artist
It was an opportunity for the leader of our nation to honor a woman who changed the face of the music world from 1960 on and was African American. Instead, we heard nothing from our current President upon the death of Aretha Franklin. Any respectful leader would have made a statement in light of her accomplishments.
Aretha Franklin became the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences awarded her a Grammy Legend Award in 1991, then the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994. Franklin was a Kennedy Center Honoree in 1994, recipient of the National Medal of Arts in 1999, and was bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005. Rolling Stone often ranked her first on their list of Greatest Singers of all Time.
She was a friend of the Rev. Martin Luther King and described as “the voice of the civil rights movement, the voice of black America” and a “symbol of black equality.” In 2009, she graced Barack Obama’s inauguration singing “My Country, Tis of Thee” wearing a hat so memorable it ended up on display in the Smithsonian. And on December 6, 2015, she sang an unforgettable rendition of her own anthem “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” in tribute to the song’s co-writer, Carole King, who was receiving the Kennedy Center Honors for a lifetime achievement. By all accounts of that performance, she brought down the house. As Barack Obama has said of Franklin, “American history wells up when Aretha sings.”
It is hard to imagine that our current President would make no mention of her death and pay no tribute to what her singing has contributed to gospel, R & B, jazz and on occasion even to opera. She was also a talented musician and gifted piano player. And, she was an outspoken supporter and leader in the civil rights movement. Her career spanned over fifty years. For any or all of these reasons, she deserved his attention and acknowledgment.
I was eight in 1960 when I first heard her on the radio singing “Respect.” I was hooked. It was the decade of Aretha Franklin hits. I also remember in college working on a ranch one summer in Colorado catching myself singing “You make me feel like a natural woman” and realizing that, one, the lyrics didn’t quite fit. And two, that I hoped I wasn’t singing so loudly that others (men) didn’t hear me. But, gosh, she sang that song with such heart and soul it just intoxicated my own and I sang it anyway. Such was the magic of the queen of soul.
I just wish the President had taken the opportunity to honor her and show us that maybe he had a little bit of soul himself.