More Than a Queen

how she got over.

Aretha Franklin, pictured on the Amazing Grace album, 1972.

There are a million voices in Aretha Franklin’s extraordinarily singular voice. They flow into and out of it as it rises up, smooth as silk then cracking open with a celestial rasp, or sinks down into a low rumble and earthy truth. Her timing as a singer is part of it, her phrasing unparalleled, her ability to reveal new aspects of the rhythm through her melodic flourishes. When she opens the throttle, all of America lives in that voice, all of us, and when she tightens her throat up into an “ooo” or an “ahh,” a shriek or a sigh, she lights a path through the darkness and wilderness. Underground or on the air, center stage or in the mix, channeling the words of others into a different dimension, Aretha knew how to tell her story and and everyone else’s too, reminding us that sound, wielded mightily, melds the personal and political, asserts respect and dignity for all that it means human, demands that we honor our obligations, and, most of all, takes us to a place where the air is more richly oxygenated and grace is within our reach.

Also from the domain of political theater: Aretha at the 2015 Kennedy Awards, honoring Carole King. Somehow, as with “Respect,” Otis Redding’s lovely, funky 1965 song about a tired working man coming home to his partner, which Aretha turned into an anthem for marching in the streets as well as changing the rules of the bedroom, here the Queen of Soul is also a democratic citizen par excellence, transforming a great song about the domestic (“You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman”) into a profound statement about our national story.

And finally, I’m not Christian by faith, but who wouldn’t feel the power of this album?

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