She taught us how to spell: R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
In some ways, “Respect” was the most universal song that Aretha Franklin — who died today, Aug. 16, at age 76 while in hospice care for pancreatic cancer — ever recorded.
There are many other classics. You can bet that women still hug themselves and dance to and sing out with “A Natural Woman,” a song that guys could also dig, if in a different way — especially if the “You” in “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” could refer to, well, you.
But “Respect” references pretty much everybody, not only women, who had to fight more often than not to get it, but men and boys, who didn’t get enough, and workers who worked too hard to get it. Respect is all you had left to keep you standing after you had lost everything else.
She earned the majestic title of “Queen of Soul,” which came deep out of her Detroit upbringing, her personal troubles with health, love and just climbing on up with her powerful voice. That extraordinary voice encompassed everything and everywhere she experienced: the church — where the strains of gospel could get right into your blood, then come on out and soar to heaven — and the home and the clubs and the street corners, as well as the private places where the blues began.
In the end, after a long career and a huge output, she easily entered diva land. She was deeply loved by those closest to her, but she and her music were loved equally deeply by the multitudes who bought the records, sang to them and carried them in their souls as a part of life.
Consider: “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Loved You,” “Lady Soul,” “Young, Gifted and Black” and “Amazing Grace” were all albums that lifted her to popularity in the 1960s, along with singles like “Freeway of Love,” “Think” (with which she made a memorable appearance in the film “The Blues Brothers”), a duet with the late pop singer George Michael, even a redo of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”
She immersed herself in the Civil Rights movement. She sang at Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral and at Barack Obama’s inaugural. Whatever the ebb and flow of her career and her popularity, her music, the work of a natural woman, never lost its power. It will rise up in the coming hours and days and months when her fans, friends and family will miss her the most, with each song out on the airwaves, in the downloads or just in the minute before you drift off to sleep. And the words will come: “Since You’ve Been Gone,” “Think,” “Share Your Love With Me.”
“Let’s all take a moment to give thanks for the beautiful life of Aretha Franklin, the Queen of our souls, who inspired us all for many many years. She will be missed but the memory of her greatness as a musician and a fine human being will live with us forever. Love Paul,” Paul being Paul McCartney, a knight at the court of the Queen of Soul.
Even President Trump got it right: “The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, is dead. She was a great woman, with a wonderful gift from God, her voice. She will be missed!”
She taught us how to spell.
This is how you spell respect: A-R-E-T-H-A F-R-A-N-K-L-I-N.