Legacy: The Queen Is Dead. Long Live The Queen, Aretha!

Aretha, at home in New York by Moneta Sleet Jr. 1974

Smarter, far more eloquent people than I will write smarter, far more eloquent tributes to Aretha Franklin than I’ll ever be able to, but anyone who knows me knows what her voice and her music has meant to me my whole life. To say I am gutted in an understatement.

On her 75th birthday, last year, I posted a photo of the Queen and wrote,

“When it’s asked of me who I believe to be the greatest voice of the Rock and Roll era, I immediately say, without hesitation, the Queen of Soul. I’ve stated such for decades (and felt vindicated when Rolling Stone magazine heralded Her Highness with the same accolade). Here’s to a spectacular Happy 75th Birthday to the unparalleled Aretha Franklin!”

In 2015, when she performed “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” for the Carole King tribute at the Kennedy Center Honors – which is now legendary – I wrote,

“To me, the greatest female voice in pop music history is Aretha Franklin’s. When it comes to her early years (post-Columbia, particularly during her Atlantic reign during the 70s) there wasn’t a pop, rock, soul or gospel singer alive who came close to joining her on her pantheon. In recent years, due to health issues, as well as her age, her range has hindered, as her top voice was almost non-existent, her breath control shaky, and her choices were more than a little peculiar. Well, I’ll be damned if she didn’t just prove why she is still THE Queen. She just tore the roof off the fucking joint celebrating Carole King – instilling her performance of “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman” with that natural, raw power she hasn’t mustered in almost 2 decades. This was the best I’ve heard Aretha in years. YEARS. Brava, Aretha. BRAVA!”

There is a plethora of Aretha performance videos to spelunk online, to splendor in her majesty, to marvel at her technique, to engulf your very core with the pure passion of soul. And you should; her voice was and remains unmatched. And I’m sure hundreds of those videos will embellish your Facebook feeds, now that the Queen has left the throne – and I will revel in them again, as I have for years, and will for years to come.

My favorite of those comes to mind, and it’s more recent history.

In 1998, twenty-two minutes after she was asked to cover for her ailing friend, Luciano Pavarotti, Aretha Franklin walked on stage at the Grammy Awards to perform the legendary aria “Nessun Dorma.” With little time to prepare Franklin performed the aria as is. In Pavarotti’s key. No one knew what to expect. No one knew what he or she was about to witness.

That performance begets one of the most extraordinary musical moments in awards show history, in a canon as mammoth. It brought the audience to a thunderous ovation and remains, in my opinion, the greatest performance in the history of the Grammy Awards.

Her talent, nonpareil. Our loss, immeasurable. Her legacy? Eternal.

I don’t believe in a heaven or a god, but Aretha surely did. And if there actually was one or the other, I know that he or she bows knowingly, as Ms. Franklin struts through those pearly gates, belting Amazing Grace.

Rest In Peace, Aretha. Long Live The Queen!

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