Ain’t Nobody like the Queen of Soul!
by Nicole A. Davis
In the early 70’s I used to listen to WABC- AM radio in New York before the advent of WBLS and the sounds of Aretha Franklin’s “Spanish Harlem” filled the airwaves, quickly becoming my favorite song. My God sister Verna walked me downtown to the Downbeat record shop to buy the 45 for .33 cents and I essentially wore the groove off the wax…
Who can forget “Rock Steady” where the adults in my house would dance the nap off the proverbial red living room carpet. The immortal Donnie Hathway on the opening organ and those ladies sangin background as Aretha effortless just wailed, “now you movin… Rock Steady baby”. Of course, the break with the snare drum and don’t forget The Memphis Horns. My mother and uncle danced as if they were the caricatures in an Ernie Barnes painting. Clearly, soul music and Aretha Franklin became the backdrop of many of our lives at an early age.
Fast forward to my music career and one of my first positions at PolyGram Group Distribution. Warren a very square but hip white guy, in the sales department asked me if I had a copy of Aretha Franklin’s Amazing Grace CD. I said, “no”, and he looked stunned. Like he was going to revoke my black card. Three days later it was on my desk with a note. I have listened intensely over the past 25 years; sometimes for spiritual guidance, sometimes for a good shouting praise fest, sometimes for the pure musicality of the gospel music idiom and other times with utter amazement of her mezzo-soprano range her unique inflection, cadence and interpretation of the gospel message through song. Aretha painted the picture and told the story as only she can. Aretha’s daddy, Baptist preacher Rev. C.L. Franklin sums up the essence of Aretha’s extraordinaire gifting, “but I say with pride, Aretha is just a stone singer”.
A few of my colleagues and I had the privilege of hearing Ms. Franklin sing live to an intimate crowd of 850 at the National Association of Black Owned Broadcaster’s (NABOB) Annual Communications Awards Dinner. Aretha took the stage, sat at the piano and played until her heart was content. NABOB’s black-tie dinner guests did not need the filet mignon. We were full on music for our souls. She was in great voice, engaging, and transparent. “I see that Terrance Howard and he is some kind of fine, yall get me a seat on the dais next to him when I’m done singing”. All you could hear over the radios was get her a chair next to Terrance.
Privileged yet again to be part of the team responsible for Luther Vandross’ home-going, on July 8, 2005, at the iconic Riverside Church in New York City, Aretha blessed the waiting mourners with Amazing Grace. She transported us back to 1972 and the live recording with James Cleveland and the Southern California Community Choir. Now, as all great singers do, she prequalified the status of her voice. Her throat was slightly sore, but she was there to pay tribute to Luther and sing anyhow! In her own unique Baptacostal way, she slayed the Riverside Church congregation. She sang her personal testimony, and fervently expressed her condolences in song to the Vandross family… “there is healing in Jesus name”. All that was missing was her walking the floor… But, not to worry, because when she took her seat the shout broke out. Ain’t nothing like some soul.
Invariably having soul can be express in a number of different ways, music, language, art, food, and fashion. Aretha Franklin’s soul and blackness had a direct impact on global culture. The iconic singer epitomizes soul; her singing, her various styles of dress, her activism, but more importantly the sharing of her unique God-given talent to tell life’s story through song. She was an example of using your God-given talents to impact the world.
Upon the learning that Aretha had passed, Patti Labelle tweeted the, “Greatest singer of all time…”
President Barak Obama tweeted, “Aretha helped define the American experience. In her voice, we could feel our history, all of it and in every shade—our power and our pain, our darkness and our light, our quest for redemption and our hard-won respect. May the Queen of Soul rest in eternal peace.”
All I can say is, “ain’t nothing like some soul”… The Queen of Soul.
Howard University Alumni Nicole A. Davis is Managing Director of Nick of Time Marketing, LLC, a brand marketing firm in New Jersey and is also a contributing writer to Poised Magazine. Follow Nicole on Twitter @NicoleADavis2