A Tribute to Aretha Franklin: The Voice of a People, The Soul of a Movement

Updated on Thursday, August 23, 2018

 

Aretha Franklin was born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1942, two years later her family moved to Buffalo, New York and from there to Detroit, Michigan which became her home. These moves occurred in the middle of the Great Migration of African Americans from the Jim Crow south to northern and western cities.

In Detroit her father, Rev. C. L. Franklin became the prominent pastor of the New Bethel Baptist Church, where Aretha began singing gospel.

Rev. C. L. Franklin brought Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Detroit and organized the June 23, 1963 Detroit Walk to Freedom which was the largest civil rights demonstration in U. S. history until the March on Washington a few months later.

A Call To Conscience

The book, “A Call To Conscience, Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” features an introduction written by Aretha Franklin and her sister Erma Franklin to Dr. King’s speech delivered to over 100,000 marchers. In the introduction the sisters write:

“The history books say that Dr. King’s speech on that day set the stage for his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech at the great March on Washington later that summer. And indeed, Dr. King did explore some of the themes and language he would use at the Lincoln Memorial. But on that magical day, we knew that Detroit had been blessed with a tremendous vision of unity and brother – and sisterhood that had never been so well articulated and organized in America, and that somehow things were going to change for the better.”

 I believe a mission of the independent political movement is to advance that vision of unity across the divisions of race as well as across partisan divides.

Aretha Franklin was a friend and supporter of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and a financial backbone to the Civil Rights Movement and to the Southern Christian Leadership conference, which Dr. King co-founded.

She held many concerts in support of the movement and she wrote:

“In May of 1963, I had the great privilege of following Mahalia Jackson and Dinah Washington in closing out a benefit concert at Chicago’s Wrigley Field for the Civil Rights Movement’s Birmingham Campaign, one of many concerts in which I participated with Dr. King.”

Aretha Franklin recorded countless hit songs but her music such as the song “Respect” was more than entertaining, it was powerfully uplifting. Of the song “Respect” DeNeen L. Brown in the Washington Post wrote, “Franklin, then just 24 years old, infused it with a soulful and revolutionary demand, a declaration of independence that was unapologetic, uncompromising and unflinching.”

 I believe a mission of the independent political movement is to advance that vision of unity across the divisions of race as well as across partisan divides.
Dr. Jessie Fields, IVN Editorial Voice

In a recent New York Times article about her, “More Than a Little Bit Of Empowerment,” Wesley Morris writes about the song saying it “became an anthem for us, because it seemed like an anthem for her. The song owned the summer of 1967. It arrived amid what must have seemed like never-ending turmoil – race riots, political assassinations, the Vietnam draft. Muhammad Ali had been stripped of his championship title for refusing to serve in the war. So amid all this upheaval comes a singer from Detroit..”

Aretha Franklin was a world renowned singer, winner of 18 Grammy Awards, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom and in 1987 the first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. As a singer she had a broad range of skill from soul to opera. At the 1998 Grammy Awards, she filled in for tenor Luciano Pavarotti and sang the “Nessun Dorma” from the Puccini opera Turandot.

Aretha Franklin, will remain the legendary and beloved “Queen of Soul” sister of the people. Generations will continue to sing and dance with her music as many in Harlem did to “Rock Steady” and other songs in front of the Apollo Theater.

Her voice soared with beauty and soul combining gospel, blues, spiritual, and rock and roll. She always held a deep connection to the African American community.  In an interview with the Amsterdam News in 1961 she said,”The blues is a music born out of the slavery day sufferings of my people”

Aretha Franklin supported Black activists such as Angela Davis for whom she offered to post bail when Davis was arrested in 1970. Franklin said:

“Angela Davis must go free. Black people will be free. I’ve been locked up (for disturbing the peace in Detroit) and I know you got to disturb the peace when you can’t get no peace…I have the money; I got it from Black people – they’ve made me financially able to have it – and I want to use it in ways that will help our people.”

Among her many recordings is the album of the proud Nina Simon anthem from the words of Lorraine Hansberry, “To Be Young, Gifted and Black.”

Aretha Franklin’s voice was there connecting us through song to our long journey, and through some of the hardest of times such as the assassination of Dr. King. And 40 years later, her voice crowned the inauguration of the first African American President, Barack Obama.

As independents of color we fuse the long struggles of the African American community for equality and inclusion with the independent political movement’s mission to transform American democracy and move our country forward. Expanding the right to vote is key.

Aretha Franklin's voice was there connecting us through song to our long journey, and through some of the hardest of times such as the assassination of Dr. King.
Dr. Jessie Fields

Fittingly this past Sunday at Harlem Week to the music of Aretha Franklin independents continued to build the movement for equal voting rights for all.

Harem Week is an annual series of popular outdoor summer festivals which features a lot of music. Attorney Alvaader Frazier and I along with a multi-racial team of independents spoke with over 300 people who support opening the primaries to give equal voting rights to independents. We conducted the 9 Questions for the 44% (take a minute and fill it out now), a series of questions designed to respect the true independence of the 44% of Americans who identify as independents.

Once again at Harlem Week we were all moved as we are every year by the outpouring of support and love from the community.

Aretha Franklin demonstrated great love bringing movement and song together with the deepest aspirations of a people. We will continue to reach out in that spirit.