On Aretha Franklin’s passing

Yesterday, the Queen of Soul passed on. As the radio stations, tv stations, concert artists and even my water aerobics pool music paid tribute to her by playing her songs,  I am reminded of how conflicted I was as a young girl listening to her songs. Don’t get me wrong, I loved to dance to the fast ones, and grind to the slow ones; but I as a young girl I listened to the words- and I was conflicted. She often sang  of women in pain pining for a man who more often than not treated her badly- and she still wanted him.
Some might argue that she she also  “Respect,”  which became her theme song. But back in the day, that song was not the feminism call it is today. As a young girl, of 11 years when that song came out,  I knew what kind of respect that she was asking  for: “sock it to me, sock it to me.” Clearly,  Aretha sang many songs that were also uplifting, yet  the “stupid woman” ones stuck with me.
I listened to her songs as I hung out weekends with my aunt Vivian, as a child. Aunt Vivian  played her albums and sang along with them. So  when I hear certain of Aretha Franklin’s  songs, I immediately remember  my aunt. While I could not understand whatever love pains she was going through, I could feel the melancholy in  her spirit as she belted out the lyrics in “Loved a man the way that I loved You.”   Aunt Vivian never married. She was engaged once, but apparently she had the good sense to not marry the man as they broke up for reasons that I will never know. I do know that it was her decision, as the elders faulted her for not getting married-finally. Other relatives “threw shade” (as they say nowadays) at her for her single/”old maid”  status over the course of her life. I was socialized  to get married,  not have a baby out of wedlock and not become an “old maid.”  The socialization was successful.  But I loved and respected my aunt Vivian and respected her  life choices when I was older. Although I can’t recall the particulars now, I remember that we had a conversation where she discussed her single status with no regrets and I believed her.
Now back to Aretha, when my daughter was a little girl, occasionally an old Aretha Franklin song would come on like “Until you come back to me” and I’d warn her “do not be the stupid woman in Aretha Franklin songs.” Now I know that Aretha Franklin was not the only one singing “stupid woman” songs, and I warned my child about  those songs  too. But Aretha Franklin’s songs were almost always big, lasting  hits. The point was,  I did not want my daughter  belting out songs pining for some man ad nauseam. I understand there is  time for self-pity, but I was worried about and trying to ward off,  deep depression in her future.
And then Aretha came out with Lauryn Hill’s “Rose is still a Rose.”  Aretha had sage advice to young women: “Darlin’ you hold the power.” Advice that she may have wished her younger self had received:
“Let your life be in the sunshine
Not the darkness of your sorrow
You may see your all today
When you know it’ll come tomorrow
Tough to be, but life ain’t over
Just because your man is gone
Girl, love yourself and love to love
Cause without him your life goes on
Without him your life goes on
Without him your life goes on”
Thank you Aretha.
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