Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge another great American hero whose transition we also celebrated last week: the fabulous Ms. Aretha Franklin. I don’t know anything that I could write that would be as concise and as eloquent as the statement Barack and Michelle Obama released upon her death:
“Through her compositions and unmatched musicianship, 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. She helped us feel more connected to each other, more hopeful, more human. And sometimes she helped us just forget about everything else and dance.”
In her earlier years, her voice was a beacon to the civil rights movement, as attested to civil rights icon and US Representative from Georgia, John Lewis:
“What made her talent so great was her capacity to live what she sang. Her music was deepened by her connection to the struggles and the triumphs of the African American experience growing up in her father’s church, the community of Detroit, and her awareness of the turmoil of the South. She had a lifelong, unwavering commitment to civil rights and was one of the strongest supporters of the movement.”
And in her later years, she was just a bodaciously awesome talent who lived life on her own terms. You certainly saw that reflected in her memorial services. In contrast to Senator McCain’s ceremony, filled with political pomp and military ceremony, Aretha’s services were filled with song and celebration. There was the cavalcade of 100 pink Cadillacs, a tribute to her 1985 hit “Freeway of Love,” that escorted her hearse to the church. There were the days of public open-casket viewing in which she appeared in a different glamorous outfit each day: Tuesday, a red suit and crimson pumps; Wednesday, a powder blue dress; and on Thursday, a rose gold St. John’s gown and gold Christian Louboutin heels, all in different colors of metallic caskets engraved with the words “Queen of Soul.” It all culminated in a nine-hour funeral, filled with personalities and performances.
She did have one thing in common with Senator McCain’s passing, however. As I said yesterday, Senator McCain died on the same day as Senator Kennedy. Aretha Franklin died on the same day as…can you guess?….
Elvis Presley. Yes, the Queen of Soul and the King of Rock and Roll entered eternity on the same day.
Do you see what I mean when I say I don’t believe in coincidences?
But in the end, with all the glorious ostentatiousness and pop culture shout-outs, I think Aretha’s service really all boiled down to one thing: love. She loved color, she loved spectacle, she loved music, she loved people, and she loved life. And people loved her back for it. That was what was really on display during her memorials.
Stevie Wonder said it best during his eulogy:
“We can talk about all the things that are wrong, and there are many. But the only thing that can deliver us is love. So what needs to happen today, not only in this nation but throughout the world, is that we need to make love great again. . . . That is what Aretha said throughout her life.”
So I think the best way we can honor Ms. Franklin is to spread around a little more loving, today and every day.