Not surprisingly, upon the great singer Aretha Franklin’s passing on August 16, 2018, journalists, bloggers, and social media enthusiasts immediately began referencing the song that made her a superstar: “Respect” as in "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" (written by the legendary Otis Redding). Acknowledgement of that classic social justice anthem was completely appropriate. But another word also provided a major component of the Queen of Soul's fundamental approach to life and that word was: compassion.
It was, she knew, something any of could find ourselves needing--like shelter in a raging storm or water during a blistering drought--at any given unexpected moment. Therefore, the golden rule of treating others as one wished to be treated was a philosophical mainstay she sang about with pleading conviction in the song, “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” (written by Chips Moman and Dan Penn). In it, she cautioned: If you want a do-right-all-day woman/ You've got to be a do-right-all-night man. Others have remarked on this quality as evidenced in her rendition of singer-songwriter Paul Simon's Bridge over Troubled Water.
Outside of the recording studio, Franklin's acts of generosity toward those in need were legendary and far too many to begin listing here. Just, however, to give a couple of examples: she famously offered in 1970 to post imprisoned political activist and educator Angela Davis’s bail bond of $250,000 (Franklin was actually out of the country at the time and the bond ultimately paid by another sympathizer). More recently, she stepped up to provide victims of the 2016 water crisis in Flint, Michigan, with food and hotel rooms while government officials scrambled to resolve the toxic issue.
Art and Poetry Tribute to a Queen
Whether singing gospel, rhythm and blues, jazz, pop, or opera, Franklin's talent transcended cultural barriers and created a space where people--be they presidents, kings, or popes--glimpsed something of the meaning of their own life journeys. My hope in the artwork titled Light at the End of the Tunnel, and the poem titled Haiku-Elegy for a Queen, was to capture some small measure of hers.
To paraphrase an old saying: folks like Aretha Franklin don't come around every day. She is something like a once-in-a-century deal. A once-in-a-lifetime gift to humanity. Therefore, I consider myself profoundly blessed to have witnessed her phenomenal passage through this world:
Haiku-Elegy for a Queen
(Honoring Aretha Franklin, 1942- 2018)
Your crown studded with
gospel, rhythm, blues, and jazz
shined like no other.
You were the black pearl
angels hid in Detroit, then
gifted to the world.
A scepter carved from
wisdom--fit your blessed hands and
matched your eyes just right.
all loved how your voice gave us
sweet tastes of heaven.
brilliance forged the golden throne
from which your songs ruled.
Amazing... how grace
rained joy and miracles through
the skies of your heart.
Your soul taught my soul
to honor divine purpose
with love, faith, respect.
Daughter of Prophets.
Sister to the weary and
oppressed. Queen of Soul.
An ancient Light of
Holiness sent you to us--
and has called you back.
This bright hour of your
ascension reminds us why: