Aretha Franklin, 1960s

Like everyone else with a soul, I celebrate the life mourn the loss to this world of Aretha Franklin, dead yesterday at age 76.

I’ve been an Aretha fan for a long time. I was eight years old when songs like “Chain of Fools” and “Think” tore up the radio airwaves. Right away, I understood that this was my kind of music. The beat, the horns, the powerful voice.

At eight, I didn’t understand what the songs were about. That came later, as life’s triumphs and heartbreaks stacked up. A take-no-prisoners Aretha-powered tune could reliably pick me up when someone did me wrong. Respect. Freedom. Power. Singing along created a visceral reminder that I deserved all of these. Her love songs were full of power, too, and passion.

Aretha Franklin worked with some of the best songwriters in the business. Otis Redding, Goffin and King, Bacharach and David, Lennon and McCartney, to name a few. Plus her own works and collaborations. If you want an example of the love and energy that can crackle between a singer and a songwriter when things go extremely right, watch the clip of Aretha’s Kennedy Center performance in honor of Carole King:

I’ve watched this performance many times and still start crying my eyes out before the first verse is finished.

The two on-stage brushes I’ve had with songs Aretha made famous were as a bass player, backing one of my Schwartz Sisters for “Do Right Woman-Do Right Man,” and, many years before that in a pickup band for a community theater awards banquet (“Chain of Fools”). I now wonder if the singers at these events felt the strength of Aretha’s renditions lifting them up.

She lifted me up yesterday morning as I slogged along on the Nordic Track, listening to The Very Best of Aretha Franklin-The 1960s. “Respect”; “Chain of Fools”; “Think”. So many more. Aretha left us yesterday, but she left us well-supplied with music that has the power to encourage us to keep going, to stand up for ourselves when life sends the nasty stuff our way. Pancreatic cancer is a horrible way to go and 76 is far too short a life. Her gift of power, and of empowerment, will be with us much, much longer.

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