Aretha Franklin, the undisputed Queen of Soul, passed away August 16 at age 76. To me, it seemed like the whole country stopped in awe to mourn her death.
Everyone except for the teens my age. I wondered to myself, “Why aren’t I sad? Why don’t my friends seem to be affected by her death?” I realized that there was a major disconnect between my generation and Aretha. In an attempt to feel closer to her, I listened to some of her music to see why everyone was so impacted by her songs.
Immediately, I fell in love with Aretha. Her music made me feel a series of emotions. After looking into the lyrics of her 1967 hit song “Respect,” I got the vibe that Aretha was a true feminist.
The song discussed her demand for respect from any and everybody, including men. I felt truly empowered.
Her song “Think” tackles the social issue of how people speak and interact with each other. The song really made me “think” and be more conscious of how I speak to people. It also made me feel important — like I am worth enough for someone to treat me with the utmost respect.
While many of Aretha’s songs take on social and political issues, Aretha also recorded some “feel good” songs. My all-time favorite is “Rock Steady.” It changed my entire mood. Honestly, listening to Aretha’s music was a nice, refreshing break from the rap songs that have a catchy beat but lyrics that degrade and objectify women.
I really liked Aretha’s music, but I quickly realized that I was too late to truly get to know her. I decided to talk to my grandma, Omega. I wanted to see if she had any knowledge to pass along about Aretha. My grandma is now 88 years old, but was a wealth of information.
From talking to my grandma, I learned a lot about both her and Aretha. I formulated a few questions and called her with my recorder running. She was more than happy to talk about The Queen of Soul. “I think Aretha is a trailblazer!” she told me. “There will never be another Aretha Franklin.”
I was witnessing an older adult gushing and complimenting this great lady, but I felt left out. I wanted to know Aretha’s characteristics. What was she like?
My grandma told me: “When I moved to Detroit, I joined New Bethel Baptist Church. My sister and I, we joined that church right away.”
I couldn’t believe it! My grandmother and my great-aunt had seen a young Aretha Franklin growing up in her father, Rev. C.L. Franklin’s church. I did the math and my grandma is only 12 years older than Aretha.
As Granny reminisced, she remembered, “[Aretha] came up singing in the church. Her dad would ask her to sing ‘Precious Lord, Take My Hand.’ She was so poised. Her voice was so mature even as a young girl.”
Thanks to my grandmother who was there, I was finally starting to getting to know Aretha, but it wasn’t just me who didn’t know much about her.
As the nation pauses to celebrate Aretha Franklin’s life during a public funeral on Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. EST (CNN will air portions of it live), I feel like other teens are experiencing this problem. We failed to get to know this woman with such an immense power who affected millions of other people like my grandma.
I asked how teens could learn about Aretha and relate to her music. My grandma said, “[Aretha] put herself into the music. [Teens] would see Aretha through her singing.”
Finally, I asked my grandma to list some of her favorites by Aretha. For starters, there’s “Respect.” Her other favorites include “Where We’ll Never Grow Old,” “Chain of Fools,” “You Send Me,” and “A Rose Is Still A Rose.”
After researching Aretha and speaking to my grandma, I truly have a new appreciation for the Queen of Soul and what she stood for. She formed a new idea of what women are and how they should act. No longer would black women play the role of the subservient housewife. They would be independent women who spoke their minds and deserved to be treated with love and respect.
Now, we look to figures like Beyonce as the ultimate black female role model, but without the original Queen (of Soul) paving the way for future female artists, there would be no Queen Bey. As teens who live in the age of powerful singers like Beyonce, Janelle Monae, Fantasia and so many more, I think we owe it to them to learn about the woman who made it all possible. These women would not be where they are today without artists like Aretha Franklin making tremendous strides for women in the world of music.
You may ask, “Where might I find some of Aretha’s greatest hits?” Don’t worry, guys! I’ve got you covered. I made a Spotify playlist of some of my favorite songs by the Queen of Soul. Suggestions from my grandma and my mom who grew up listening to Aretha are in there, too!
Lexi, 15, attends Woodward Academy and is an old-school music fan!