Saturday, August 18, 2018

Goodbye, Dearest Aretha

August 16 was not a fortuitous day for American "royalty." I refer to the "Sultan of Swat" Babe Ruth, the original "King of Rock and Roll" Elvis Presley," and the one and only "Queen of Soul" Aretha Franklin. All three died on August 16. And when they did, the nation grieved.

I grieve now for Aretha. I knew she was dying, but when she finally passed Thursday from pancreatic cancer, I read the effusive tributes to her greatness while listening to some of her finest performances, and tears welled in my eyes. Was I really crying for her, or was I crying for the loss of a dazzling force of nature's vibrant constancy throughout most of my life?

It's not that, as a young white boy growing up in the suburbs and as a young and not-so-young man fixated on instrumental jazz and jazz-rock fusion for decades, I always appreciated Aretha's greatness as much as it richly deserved to be. I heard and liked many of her songs on the radio over the years, but I didn't attend any of her concerts or buy any of her albums. I knew she was revered and believed she deserved to be, but my reverence for her was superficially felt. Still, she was always a vital part of my culture and, therefore, a part of me.

Yet, around ten or so years ago after I began watching "American Idol" with my wife, I started paying more attention to male and female vocals and vocalists. And only after I'd been doing that a while did my appreciation of the greatest of the great vocalists swell to unadorned adoration of the singer Rolling Stone magazine ranked in 2010 as the greatest singer of all time. I'm no music expert, but I've never heard anyone who could convey so much powerful emotion with such heartfelt mastery, or seen anyone do it with such sublime regality as Aretha did. This astonishing performance when she was 73 years old says everything more that needs to be said about Aretha Franklin and will remain indelibly etched in my mind forever.

Thank you, Aretha Frankin, for being such an enduring part of the soundtrack of my life and for doing it your way!

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