Legendary singer and original Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin died in her Detroit home early Thursday morning. She was responsible for timeless classics like “(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman” and "Chain of Fools.” From 1977 to 2017 she held the record for the female artist with the most Billboard Hot 100 songs. In 1987, she became the first woman to ever be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame. She did all of this after being brave enough to leave behind (with family) the two children she had as a young teen mum as she pursued her dreams. Franklin broke glass ceilings for Black women with her powerful voice. However, her passion for equality and social justice went beyond her vocal range. And she had a lot of reasons to fight for them.
Franklin grew up in Detroit during the Civil Rights Era, a time where Black churches acted as hubs for organised efforts to gain equal rights for African-Americans. Franklin’s father, C. L. Franklin, was a popular minister who gained national fame for his impassioned sermons, even catching the attention of Martin Luther King Jr.. King visited the Franklin family home and spoke at the 1963 Detroit Walk to Freedom, which Franklin’s father helped organise.
According to Vanity Fair, it was written into Franklin’s contract that she would not perform for segregated audiences. Her number one hit, “Respect” — still infectious, still entrenched in daily pop culture mentions 50 years after Franklin's version was released — is widely heralded as as feminist anthem and often gets used as such in media. However, Franklin’s identity as a Black woman offers even more context into the song and why it was ahead of its time. As civil rights gave way to the Black Panthers movement, the fight for racial justice in the late ‘60 was still considered a man’s game. “Respect” implored men to make room for women’s voices in the same movements where her father was a leader.
She would openly disagree with her father when she offered to post bail for Angela Davis — a political activist who was indicted for kidnapping, murder, and conspiracy. She told Jet Magazine: "Jail is hell to be in. I’m going to see her free if there is any justice in our courts, not because I believe in Communism, but because she’s a Black woman and she wants freedom for Black people.”
Before Beyoncé was making meaningful albums like Lemonade and quietly funding Black Lives Matter activists to be released from jail, there was Aretha Franklin. She was a teen mum twice. She was the Queen of Soul. She was one of the most influential women in music. She was an advocate for her people and proof that no one will ride for you like Black women will. She will be missed.