Reflections on The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin (1942-2018)

 

Remember cassette tapes? Better yet cassette singles in cardboard sleeves with artist portraits and logos? How about slightly pricier cassette maxi-singles in plastic cases and cardstock inserts?

From ages 10 through 14, my parents gave me a weekly allowance. Every other Friday, I’d spend a good chunk at music stores: Coconuts, Sam Goody, Musicland. When the movie Sister Act 2 starring Whoopi Goldberg and Lauryn Hill debuted, it was THE thing for my 6th-grade classmates. Our teacher would let us jam out to the soundtrack during our weekly Art period. There was always a couple of kids living to belt out Lauryn Hill and Tanya Blount’s version of “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” and a couple of boys gave us all the giggles while attempting Ryan Toby’s high note on “Oh Happy Day.” Aside from digging the movie and soundtrack on first runs, I could not let much time pass before getting my hands on a certain cassette single: Aretha Franklin’s cover of C+C Music Factory’s “A Deeper Love.”

The cover design was clean – deep red background with artist and title in white serif. The portrait of the Queen – Aretha, in a black leather jacket, white T-shirt, shiny obsidian curls with that ‘90s volume, glowing sable skin and red lips. As common with maxi singles, there were 5 remixes and I was easily enamored with two. Renowned vocal powerhouse Lisa Fischer accompanied the Queen on this solid house track. Twelve-year-old me could barely relate to the “hard work, no handouts” lyrics but there is an enduring soulfulness and humanity in verses like this:

Now, it ain’t easy
But I don’t need no help
I got a strong will to survive
I’ve got a deeper love
Deeper love
Deeper love inside
And I call it…Pride

There were many late nights of me attempting to quietly mimic her diva runs and ad libs in spite of being a fair distance from my parents’ bedroom. Catching myself getting too much volume a time or two, an unbeatable feeling washed over me in the hand-waving, diaphragm-vibrating throes of it all. Once, my dad told me “You sounded good last night!” That’s what Aretha’s songs do – her spirited, soulful delivery makes you believe in yourself and sing along unapologetically.

Long live the Queen.

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