The Once and Future Queen of Soul
by Cameron Kieffer
The queen is dead. Long live the queen.
That last part implies that with one’s passing, someone else will rise up to rule but I don’t really believe that’s the case. No one can replace Aretha Franklin as the Queen of Soul. With her passing, we’ve lost yet another in a long line of musical masters whose loss seems incredibly abrupt and much too soon.
Aretha’s musical origins began as a child in the 1950’s, singing gospel tunes in her father’s church. She did her first recording at the tender age of 14, and having heard this pre-demo, I’m ashamed to admit I was never as good at ANYTHING at that age. Her voice is simply amazing, and it would only get better as time would go on. She was eventually signed to Columbia Records, and, in the early sixties, she put out a number of R&B hits, while never quite gaining momentum as bonafied star. Before long, Aretha signed to Atlantic Records and began recording more soulful songs that would soon propel her to international fame.
By the late sixties, Aretha was not just a musical pioneer but also a proponent of the Civil Rights movement. She was seen as a symbol of African American pride and the confidence that the black community was gaining at the time. In terms of her career, she was on fire: she had ten Top Ten hits in roughly a year and a half, many of which tonally bridged the gap between her gospel roots and the pop/R&B genre that was becoming prevalent. These hits included “Chain of Fools”, “Think,” and perhaps her most famous, “Respect,” which was in essence both a cover and gender-swapped rendition of an older Otis Redding tune.
In the latter half of her career, Aretha was viewed as a musical icon, a powerhouse performer and even an actress. While her film and TV roles are sparse, her most notable film appearance was in the musical comedy Blues Brothers. She also appeared in its famously inferior sequel, though she did sing “Respect” so it wasn’t all bad.
The brilliant singer passed away in her Detroit home, surrounded by loved ones last Thursday morning. She’d recently been in hospice care after suffering from an advanced form of pancreatic cancer. Despite battling this sickness for some time, she continued to tour until last year and even had performances planned through the early part of 2018. Kind words and tributes have been shared from many friends and fans from Stevie Wonder to Barack Obama, while tears have been shed by many more in the musical community and indeed throughout the world. Aretha may never truly know the impact she had on so many, but her fans will never forget what she has meant us all.
The Queen of Soul will reign forever more.