By Joycelyne Fadojutimi
Once again, the date of August 16, strikes a grim chord as the world sorrowfully observed the 41st anniversary of the death of the King of Rock’n Roll–Elvis Presley. On this year’s August 16, the charismatic First Lady of Soul Music, Aretha Franklin, breathed her last as she fought to the end against cancer. Her passing is felt deeply as the Christian community takes note and grieves.
The National Black Church Initiative (NBCI) is a faith-centered coalition of 34,000 congregations composed of fifteen denominations and 15.7 million African-American parishioners. Every one of them is saddened by the Franklin’s death. This musical queen’s royal title was one she earned by dominating charts for decades with her mastery of soul, blues, jazz and gospel styles. Her versatility was matched only by her talent. NBCI President the Reverend Anthony Evans spoke for millions when he described the impact of her loss.
“When a star of this magnitude dies, who did not have any relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, the sermon delivered would be unnoticeable, unnotable and void of any God language to connect that particular star to God. The preacher would be searching for words to comfort the family. Praise be to God that this is not the case of the lifetime and the spirit of Aretha Franklin. Not only did she know the Lord. She loved the Lord, and not only did she love the Lord, she sang the Lord’s songs. Whoever preaches at this funeral will have so much material to pull from that it will be overwhelming for one soul to come up with a simple word that the world needs to hear about the soul of the Queen of Soul.”
She was herself a preacher’s child, the daughter of the Reverend C.L. Franklin, a close friend and collaborator of Dr. Martin Luther King. When attending services at Pastor Franklin’s church King always asked to hear young Aretha sing before the sermon. Like so many others, Aretha loved King. Upon his death it was taken for granted she would sing at his funeral his favorite hymn–Precious Lord. For most white listeners, it was the first time they heard this angel’s voice. They never forgot, and now memories are all we have. All of them cherished.
Her lovely African face topped by a flawless afro were icons of American civilization for decades as they (and she) blessed those inside and outside the black community with melodies that flowed from her throat as smoothly and sweetly as honey. She was a fixture in African-American culture and history. Born in Memphis, but raised in America’s Mecca of soul music–Detroit. Here, her career took off and soared ever higher as those around her fell under her spell and saw the righteous legitimacy in her cries for respect for her people, her family, herself and her God.
No one has since achieved her degree of success in striking an emotional chord in black America. Her cousin Whitney Houston came close, but in her short, beautiful life not even Whitney quite reached the level of impact of this relative she, too, loved so dearly. Nobody can fault Whitney for not achieving Aretha’s lofty pinnacle of near-perfection. She was a hard act to follow.
Because of her voice, ministerial lineage, talent and long, long list of personal milestones, her influence on western society is noteworthy. Her crowning artistic accomplishment was her signature album Amazing Grace. The greatest gospel album ever recorded, it gave (and gives) hope and personal resurrection to the downtrodden, depressed, overwhelmed and suicidal. Hearing her belt out Precious Lord, Mary Don’t You Weep, What a Friend We Have in Jesus, Amazing Grace and other spiritual blockbusters will revive the faith of those suffering even the most crushing grief and despair. The Black Church regards this album a true revelation from the voice of the Almighty, proclaiming His eagerness to provide His saving grace, love and inspiration to all His children.
Aretha’s light has gone out, but her music remains…and blesses.