Can you believe this August 16 will mark the fourth anniversary of Aretha Franklin’s passing? Upon hearing the news of Ms. Franklin’s death, a torrent of songs, memories, and emotions came to mind. My earliest memories of the Queen of Soul began with childhood visits to my paternal grandmother’s house.
My grandmother built, owned, and operated a boarding house and cafe in the tiny town of Lake City, Florida, just north of Gainesville. This was no small feat for a Black woman. In the 1950s. In the south.
Just let that sink in for a minute.
“The cafe,” as we called it, had an exclusively Black clientele because in those days, Black folks weren’t allowed to get rooms in motor lodges. And pressing the matter could prove to be fatal. My grandmother and her cooking were the lifeblood of the cafe, and the jukebox was filled with Rhythm & Blues hits by The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Supremes, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, a host of others, and of course, Aretha Franklin. (Do people even know what a jukebox is today?)
Of course, I never knew Ms. Franklin personally, but I held a deep appreciation for her body of work. It was like she had her finger on the pulse of Black America. Looking back, I now realize Ms. Franklin and others created the pulse of the Black community and beyond.
Here are my top six personal favorites from Ms. Franklin’s extensive catalogue.
№ 6: “I Say A Little Prayer”
Songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David penned “I Say A Little Prayer” (1968) originally for Dionne Warwick. But as always, once Ms. Franklin reworked the song with her musical genius and inimitable vocal prowess, her cover took the song to such another level that it instantly became one of her own signature songs.
№ 5: “Until You Come Back To Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do)”
A #3 hit on Billboard Hot 100 which also reached #1 on Billboard’s R&B chart. This was the first time that an artist held two spots in the top 10 simultaneously on two different charts.
№ 4: “Think”
During my college days, Auntie Ree made a cameo appearance as the singing waitress, Mrs. Murphy, in the John Landis’ film “The Blues Brothers.” John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd, the film's titular characters, and Landis fought with the studio (who wanted a more current group) for Franklin in the role. Her redux of her 1968 hit, “Think” added a-whole-nother layer of unbridled energy to the film and Franklin’s career.
№ 3: “Freeway Of Love”
For those old enough to remember the 1980s, the shoulder pads, and the big hair, surely you remember Franklin’s fifteenth Top 10 hit from 1985, “Freeway of Love.” The track features Clarence Clemons from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. The song is simply infectious.
№ 2: “My Country Tis Of Thee”
Aretha Franklin sang at the inaugural celebrations of President Jimmy Carter (1977), President Bill Clinton (1993, 1997), and at the inauguration ceremony of President Obama (2009).
№ 1: “Respect”
Remember what I wrote earlier about Ms. Franklin taking a song and making it her own? That’s exactly what Franklin did with “Respect.” The song was written and performed by Otis Redding, but Franklin, in her genius, flipped the script — by changing the gender roles and point of view of the song —and made it a hit for herself.
Aretha Franklin is undoubtedly the most celebrated female vocalist of our time. Rolling Stone magazine named her the Greatest Singer of All Time. She was a woman who used her God-given talents and platform to bring awareness to racial equality, gender equality, and the betterment of humanity. And in unapologetically celebrating her blackness, Aretha Franklin inspired America to do the same by seeing the humanity in us all.
All hail, the Queen of Soul.