The country and the world continue to mourn the passing of music legend Aretha Franklin, who died on Aug. 16 at the age of 76. As the “Queen of Soul,” she reigned for decades with a sound that stirred young and old, rich and poor from every walk of life. There was an authenticity to Miss Franklin that came from difficult experiences, hard times, personal victories and a realization that touching a soul through music is a connection with the divine. Those are good lessons for a society spiraling toward the superficial at the expense of the substantive.
Former President Barack Obama paid tribute to Franklin this way, "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.”
Respect — as in R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Aretha Franklin not only sang it — she lived it.
Burke Olsen, head digital officer at this paper, shared his experience with the respect of Aretha Franklin:
As a VIP coordinator for the Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Torch Relay, I had several telephone conversations with Aretha Franklin.
The first time she called me, it took a long pause for me to figure out to whom I was speaking. She didn’t identify herself — well not by the name I would have instantly recognized.
“Mr. Burke, this is Miss Franklin,” she began when she called me from the Detroit hotel where she lived. “Oh, Miss Franklin!” I said.
She was calling to accept the invitation from Mitt Romney and the Salt Lake Organizing Committee to carry the Olympic flame and help light the cauldron at a nighttime Torch Relay celebration in Detroit.
Unlike many of the inspirational celebrities who had one of their people deal with the logistics of the Torch Relay, Miss Franklin personally made every call to me.
After she received her official torchbearer uniform in the mail, she called to let me know that she would also need a coat to wear on that frigid Detroit night.
“Mr. Burke, you wouldn’t want me to catch a cold now, would you?”
No, I didn’t. I respected her too much for that.
In an industry that is typified by levels of “people” or a “posse” to make calls, schedule appointments and make requests, “Miss Franklin” kept that personal, respectful touch. Her onstage persona and outfits may have defined “diva,” but her personal interactions were infused with respect.
She had tremendous respect for the music she performed. The daughter of a well-known preacher, her soul was first stirred in the rich gospel music of her father’s church. In that choir she was taught both how to lend voice to the group as well as what to do when given a moment to shine. Franklin also learned the value of the “backup singers” who provided depth and dimension to each song. The lesson that singing for others instead of oneself was what made music powerful and meaningful stuck with her throughout her storied career.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote, “Being brilliant is no great feat if you respect nothing.”
Franklin herself said it this way, “Everybody wants respect. In their own way, even 3-year-olds would like respect, and acknowledgment, in their terms.”
Respect is desperately needed in our world today.
Respect for life at every age.
Respect for differing opinions.
Respect for deeply held beliefs.
Respect for diversity and differences.
Respect for the environment.
Respect for the rule of law.
Respect for the truth.
Respect for each other.
Aretha Franklin and her music are now given to the ages. Her powerful voice will continue to echo down the years, reminding us that “all we want and all we need is a little respect.” We add that respect is also what we all should give.