Voice Over Influence: Aretha Franklin
On August 16th, 2018, the headline appeared on my phone. I had just done the school drop off and glanced at the notifications. I began the drive home but had to pull over. Realizing that Aretha Franklin had actually left this planet was devastating news. I wept much of the day. A sadness came over me, that required no explanation.
As a teenager, I would throw on an album and belt it out with her, angering the neighbors, who would bang furiously on the common wall of our townhouse while I sang ferociously (and quite possibly, atrociously). Not knowing singing was something I could do outside of my little world, I kept the pleasure of singing with Aretha within the confines of my home.
The Album that Altered my World
Then, sitting in a small restaurant in Toronto, after having graduated from Radio & Television Arts, I heard the album that stopped me in my tracks. While likely a compilation of songs I should’ve already heard, I was finally introduced to “Aretha Sings the Blues” (click to buy) by way of background music in this little cafe. I listened in awe as I heard my musical hero sing songs that deeply resonated with me, songs I had either heard by other artists, or not at all, and yet, all music that felt like home.
Enrolled as a vocalist at Jazz school at the time, I thought somehow that her tracks on “Aretha Sings the Blues” (click to listen) were the songs I wanted to sing, and to deliver deep from my heart and soul. Her style, and the songs of her influencers, like Sam Cooke, resonated with me. The B3 organ supporting her was what I hoped to support me. But, her own heart and soul had seen darkness like I had never known, resulting in a depth of virtuosity beyond what I could ever know.
It was in the 1990’s that I had the pure pleasure of experiencing Aretha Franklin in the flesh…at Massey Hall in Toronto. Seats so close, I experienced her humanity. It felt inappropriate to be that close…knowing she was simply flesh and blood.
While we are blessed to have so many recordings remaining, my greatest sadness is that she was not nearly revered, while living, in the way that she truly deserved. Her funeral was indeed magnificent and deeply reverent. And still, my wish for her was that fortune could have rained down on her the way it has for others. I wished for her that she could’ve found outrageous financial success and even more admiration than she already had.
May her legacy live on like the icons of Classical music and may her story shed light on the world.
(For intimate details of her life, see RESPECT: The Life of Aretha Franklin.)