My father and I were scheduled to see Miss Aretha Franklin this past March on her birthday. The concert was abruptly cancelled, my father’s funds returned to his bank account. This alarmed us in a way we did not articulate. Instead we remained hopeful that in a few months we would be able to see the Queen again.
Our last time being in the same room with Miss Franklin was a few years ago at the New Jersey Performing Arts center. She came out in a white dress with a boa around her arms. She surprised fans by performing “Oh Me Oh My, I am a Fool for You,” an oldie but goodie that moved many to scream in excitement, and others to tears. The highlight of the evening for me was Miss Franklin’s performance of “You make me feel,” her voice mirroring the original vocals that made the song the staple it became. Seeing Aretha Franklin in concert solidifies her presence as a once in a lifetime talent that was able to withstand a changing world with unchanging talent.
Experiencing Franklin’s talent alongside my father who’s lifetime spans the duration of her career, I was able to transcend time and hold hands across generations with kinfolk who lived to see today, and those confined to the memory of tomorrow. Perhaps that is the measure of true talent is the ability to unite a people persistently divided by our white oppressors. Aretha Franklin not only united me with my father, but united many millennials and post millennials with their forefathers and foremothers in a manner that only a queen can. She is the Queen of Soul, simply because her talent bore a key to the souls of black folk. Specifically, her life proved a lesson of love, and her love proved a path to life for so many within the black collective.
Franklin’s embodiment of life prompted my initial disbelief in the news of Aretha Franklin’s fatal illness that surfaced earlier this week. The media had been similarly cruel in predicting Harry Belafonte’s death, so I perceived this as yet another means of the white media to prematurely bury the black body for profit. I still say they got it wrong. The queen is not dead. The truly influential never die, simply because they cannot. Songbirds never die. Even long after their physical departure, the wind still echoes with the song of a songbird, as their influence is eternal. Aretha’s tool of influence was a voice, a voice that in over sixty years of recording has granted her immortality.
But even immortality does not ease the stinging realization of what Franklin’s death truly means for the black collective. Aretha Franklin’s transition not only marks the end of an era, it marks the now physical invisibility of that which will never happen again. There will never be another Aretha Franklin. Despite the sacrifice and contribution of the black musicians who endured exploitation and mutilation via the white media, the talent of artists like Aretha Franklin has birthed a talentless era. Gone are the days when one’s natural gifts provides healing to the masses. Gone are the days where talent has more precedence than scandal.
As a millennial, Aretha symbolizes what has largely escaped my generation, and what many millenials will never experience in person. This is not to gaze at the past with an unhealthy nostalgia, but to encapsulate the magnitude of loss in the physical loss of our greats. Aretha Franklin, like many artists of the Soul Era, symbolizes everything an oppressive society tried to take from us—pride, poise, and the natural gifts manifested from a black past onto present bodies. In the talent of our foremothers and forefathers, be it singing, writing, arranging, dancing, science, math, astronomy or what have you, are elements of who we were before we were displaced. Through their majestic attributes, our ancestors, foremothers and forefathers embody a freedom largely forgotten by the mental enslavement that persists. Aretha Franklin’s voice in particular, paints an auditory illustration of the heaven Africa was before her physical and systemic rape, not the heaven out white oppressors created for us.
May the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, rest in the same peace and power she will afford her people forever.
A songbird never dies, she only flies. Black Power ❤