Aretha Franklin defied the boundaries of time and tragedy. The legendary Queen of Soul, who died in her Detroit home Thursday morning at the age of 76, didn’t just perform; she enraptured. Franklin sang with a power and conviction that healed. She transformed pain—both others’ and her own—into jubilation. This alchemy was studied, strenuous. Aretha Franklin gave us, her listeners, everything.
To hear Aretha Franklin sing was to bear witness as she constructed a one-woman orchestra from the discords of her own agony. Her musical career spanned the greater part of six decades, but every moment vibrated with a distinct urgency. Franklin’s voice hypnotized. It transmuted. Any song she encountered became something new. “Respect,” originally an Otis Redding song, is best-known as an Aretha anthem. The song became an unofficial rallying cry for both the civil-rights movement and women’s liberation, a powerful addition to the artistic arsenals of both efforts. Franklin’s singing made shared demands impossible to ignore.
But it is another legendary single that best captures the effect Franklin had on audiences worldwide. Three years ago, at the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony during which the acclaimed singer-songwriter Carole King received her official medal from the White House, Franklin stole the show in signature fashion. Approaching the stage in a floor-length fur coat and no shortage of jewels, Franklin blew kisses to King, who’d written “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” with her then-husband Gerry Goffin. With a stately confidence, the Queen strutted right to the piano and began to transfix. Moments after Franklin started to sing, both King and then-President Barack Obama found themselves overcome with emotion. The latter wiped away tears as he listened, a moment that’s since gone viral multiple times over.