So long Queen of soul

So long Queen of soul

If you are a music aficionado, you sip the sound in through the lips of your aural senses (your ears) and taste it on the tongue of your mind, as a connoisseur would taste a fine merlot, sauvignon blanc, or cognac at a wine-tasting session. If you are a music aficionado, you sip the sound in through the lips of your aural senses (your ears) and taste it on the tongue of your mind, as a connoisseur would taste a fine merlot, sauvignon blanc, or cognac at a wine-tasting session. You take the sound and the melody, the rhythm and the tempo slowly, stuck up there in that little private universe stuck betwixt ecstasy and nostalgia, between sheer bliss and sheer fantasy where the soul is stuck to each and every note and lyric in the symphony of sound taking you up on the stairway to heaven.

Music is a spiritual experience, is an experience sans frontieres that goes across and beyond all the borders of human and animal culture, custom and tradition, that is, if a song is good it is good: all that listen to it can relate to it ignorant of the fact that they do not understand what is being said or meant by the lyrics, just the sound of the melody and the rhythm is enough when listening to a good song. My first listen of the moment when motown met soul in a song was perhaps the best musical experience of my life, hearing the undisputed “Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin and Michael Mc Donald in the timeless classic Ever-changing Times in the early 1990’s (the best era in music according to me). Who couldn’t be captivated by Mc Donald’s falsetto and Aretha’s mezzo-soprano synching that chorus away: I see that clock up on the wall, well it don’t bother me at all It’s a ever changing time…

That was then, this is now, where we are at a point at which we bid farewell to a woman who sang not only like a mockingbird but also gave a type of music that washed not only the soul but went on to cleanse our spirits as we sang along to the tunes she has been dishing to the world since the start of the 1950’s. Aretha Louise Franklin was born on March the 25th, 1942 and passed away on August the 16th, 2018. She was an American singer, songwriter and pianist who began her career in music as a child singing gospel at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan, where her father, C. L. Franklin, was minister.

In 1960, at the age of 18, she embarked on a secular career, recording for Columbia Records but achieving only modest success. After signing to Atlantic Records in 1966, Franklin achieved commercial success and acclaim with songs such as “Respect”, “Chain of Fools”, “Think”, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”, “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)” and “I Say a Little Prayer”. All of these songs were the quintessential melodies that established her as the first in almost every endeavour related to her music: from being the first woman to be inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, to her receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and above all of these being awarded with 18 Grammy Awards in her music career’s history.A New York Times article by Jim Farber states, “Ever since she was crowned “The Queen of Soul” in 1967 by DJ Pervis Spann in a mock ceremony at the Regal Theater in Chicago, no one has come close to contesting the title.”

This rings true if one is to consider the fact that she has appeared two times on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Singers of All Time lists and has also been ranked No. 1 singer of all time by Rolling Stone Magazine. These achievements in such a prestigious magazine are coupled and intertwined with other previous achievements such as her being given the honour of singing at Reverend Martin Luther King Jr’s funeral in 1968 after travelling with him for some time. The Queen of Soul has performed at the Royal Albert Hall in front of Queen Elizabeth and other acclaimed shows across the world.

In 2009, at his inauguration, President Barack Obama was brought to tears of joy listening to the soulful voice of Aretha Franklin singing My Country, ‘Tis of Thee. It is not because of the words to the song that I think a whole new president could cry, but it is due to what Richie Unterberger states in his declaration that , Aretha Franklin is “one of the giants of soul music, and indeed of American pop as a whole. More than any other performer, she epitomized soul at its most gospel-charged.” Everyone knows that religion is said to be the opiate of the masses, and the former American president is a religious man, and a song that strikes a religious chord is sure to remind one of their closeness to their belief. Such is the power of music in helping the masses and the individuals that listen to it how close they are, not only to their faith but also to each other, which Aretha Franklin achieved in her long lifetime in music.

There is not much one that can do now that the queen is gone, except maybe to scatter flower petals in her way as the near hysterical audience covered the stage with flower petals in Concertgebouw, Amsterdam in 1967. There are not many that come to bless us with the spirit of song like she did in the course of her career, and there are fewer still whose songs shall stand the test of time to the status she reached where most of her songs are unarguable classics of all time. She sang, she stood on stages across the world, and left the world a richer place with all of her music now available for all to hear. I guess the passing of a songbird is as the dawning of a new day, we hear its call in the early morning but can hear it no more as the sun rises; the only comfort is in our being able to sit and bask in the warmth of the morning sun. Let’s therefore bask in the warmth of the recordings The Queen of Soul left for us to savour after she is gone. Go well Queen of Soul, until we meet again beyond oblivion.

By : Tsepiso S Mothibi

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