Before night comes each of us must work, in our few days, the work we were uniquely created to accomplish.
Surely, that’s exactly what the late Aretha Franklin did in singing with such splendour and grace from earliest childhood until the last year of her life.
Enormous gifts were bestowed on Aretha.
The triumph of her life was in her acceptance, nurture and stewardship of those gifts.
In so doing she became the greatest female singer in popular music since the Second World War.
Her profound legacy can be found in scores of breathtaking performances and in the inspiration she gave to fellow musicians and singers as well all of us privileged to hear her in our lifetimes.
When Aretha sang she summoned up her whole humanity to insist upon, to imperiously demand our attention!
R – E – S – P – E – C – T!
R for Roots :
Aretha’s roots lay in Church.
Her Father, the Reverend C. L. Franklin was a celebrated Baptist preacher – immensely influential in the community through his recordings, radio and touring appearances. New Bethel Church in Detroit was visited by all the great and good of the Gospel world.
Chuch and Choirs and Quartets.
In Church wide eyed young Aretha took into her deepest being the rhythms and dynamics of her Father’s Sermons, the soaring exultation of the choirs.
Aretha conquered far flung worlds in her career but she never strayed in her heart far from that Church in Detroit.
From her Father and the Gospel tradition she knew that singing was Important.
An important aspect of sacred drama.
Important to her, important to a whole community – the heart of Life.
Throughout her life when Aretha sat down at her beloved piano or took centre stage her very presence and every note she sang, every breath she took had the force of a sworn Vocation.
She knew from the Bible and increasingly from her own personal life that this world could be a vale of tears, a place of sore trial and torment.
But, she knew there was a further shore.
She knew that in turmoil she could turn to song to guide her there.
She believed that though you might be abandoned by all who you relied on there was yet a hand that would reach out for yours and gently lead you Home.
E for Ecstacy :
Rapture. Euphoria. Exultation!
Listening to Aretha on record or in person gave you the opportunity to stand outside yourself transcending the cares of your everyday shackles.
Filled with the spirit Aretha pierced the veil.
Filled with the spirit Aretha gave us glimpses of no time, glimpses of Eternity.
Filled with the spirit Aretha lifted herself and her audience into other worlds.
Filled with the spirit Aretha called out to us to respond with all our hearts.
FIlled with the spirit Aretha made us reciprocate her urgency to be understood, to be respected, to be heard.
Filled with the spirit when she sang Aretha was always reaching, reaching, reaching.
S for Soul :
If you gotta ask you don’t know what it is.
Aretha not only had Soul in her recordings and performances she came to define its essence.
She sang as a woman in full.
A woman who was unaffaid to expose her vulnerability.
A Woman Of Heart and Soul.
A Woman of blood and bone and guts and unabashed carnality.
A Woman who could shout and scald, scream or tenderly whisper.
A Woman who could thrillingly fuse the sacred and the secular to examine and embody our deepest emotions.
P for : Politics
Like Bob Dylan says we live in a Political World.
Aretha grew up knowing Martin Luther King.
Her Father ordained Jesse Jackson.
Aretha was an inspiration to all the struggles for Civil Rights.
Civil Rights and Respect for African Americans.
Civil Rights and Respect for Women.
Civil Rights and Respect for The Poor.
With Aretha’s Voice At your back and in your heart no barrier could seem insurmountable.
E for : Eternity
The greatest artists stop time when they sing.
Most music, most art is ephemeral.
It is given to very few to add to the cairn Human Beings have added to the treasures of Eternity.
Aretha has beyond all question added significantly to that cairn.
C for : Choir and Community
When Aretha sang she was always singing to a surrounding community.
A community including fellow singers and musicians and fellow pilgrims.
Even alone at the piano there was a senses that she was singing to Another.
In her singing offering up gifts.
In her singing offering pleas for redemption.
In her singing offering cries of supplication.
In her singing offering heartfelt sorrow.
In her singing shouting to be heard – to be heard and answered.
T for : Thankfulness
Aretha was fully aware of the plenitude of her gifts and was properly grateful for them.
Looking back at her wondrous career we should be properly grateful too.
Now that she has crossed over we are all immensely in her debt.
Take her hand Precious Lord.
Take her hand Precious Lord gently in your own.
Lead her Home.
Lead her Home.