Welcome to another Grateful Heart Monday, where gratitude remains the sole focus of my writing at the start of each week, which for today is for the life and career of Aretha Franklin, someone I really gained much appreciation for after watching the movie “Respect”, which stars Jennifer Hudson as her.
Prior to watching the film “Respect”, I never knew much about Aretha Franklin’s life other than a few of her songs I often heard on the radio growing up and in movies I saw over the years. “Respect” was definitely one of them. “Chain of Fools”, “I Say a Little Prayer”, “Freeway of Love”, “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman”, and “Think” were the others. What I learned about her life beyond the songs I knew truly showed me how groundbreaking of an artist she was and how much she changed not only the face of the music industry, but also our culture itself.
Probably the most impressive element of Franklin’s life for me was how active she was in the civil rights movement. Having minored in Minority Relations in my undergraduate studies, I had studied the lives of many civil rights activists. What I didn’t know was that Franklin was most assuredly one of them. I also had no idea she had a personal friendship with Martin Luther King, Jr., who is absolutely one of my heroes in life and someone I have always aspired to be more like. Nevertheless, Aretha fought for not only civil rights, but women’s rights too, several other prominent causes, and was never afraid to speak her truth.
I think the thing that moved my heart the most though in her life was seeing her devotion and faith in God. She grew up singing in her father’s church in Detroit and always carried a passion for it through her entire life, even returning to make an entire gospel album after feeling distant from God for some time. Ironically, that album became her number one selling album of all time! I’d go so far as to say that her success most assuredly came from her devotion to God and helped her deal with many of her inner demons from her past.
One of those inner demons is something I most definitely have in common with Franklin and that was her struggles with alcoholism and being raised in an abusive home where alcoholism was present. The movie alluded to how this often drove her to drink, especially due to the abuse from her father and having had two children by the age of 14. Drinking was her way of coping with it all on many occasions. Honestly, it’s mind boggling to me how she was able to have such an incredible career with the battles she had with alcoholism and abuse. Personally, I know I would never have amounted to much of anything if I had kept on drinking in my earlier years.
Regardless, after 18 Grammys, 112 singles on the Billboard charts, over 75 million records sold worldwide, the first female performer inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the most charted female artist in history, a Hollywood Walk of Fame star recipient, a voice that was declared a “natural resource” for Michigan, a Grammy lifetime achievement award recipient, a Kennedy Center honoree, a recipient of the National Medal of Arts, a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and a Pulitzer Prize Special Citation given to her posthumously, Franklin stands in a league of her own. Over the course of five decades, Aretha inspired countless singers and people too, and will probably be forever remembered as the “Queen of Soul”.
I’m truly grateful for the life of Aretha Franklin, for how much she moved the hearts and souls of so many in this country, and the world, including mine.
Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson