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The titles of royalty are bandied about in America as if they lived in the United States. It is as if the forefathers did not devise an antidote to tyranny and oppression with the Declaration of Independence. There has been a King of Swing in Benny Goodman; a King of Rock in Elvis Presley; a King of Pop in Michael Jackson; A Queen of Pop in Madonna; A Princess of Rhythm and Blues in Aaliyah; and of course the alleged Queen of Soul in Aretha Louise Franklin, just to list a few. This last honorific is close but not quite what Miss Franklin should be remembered for concerning lifetime. She was the CEO of soul music. Much like Frank Sinatra was Chairman of the Board (this was actually do to his status on the board of Reprise records, however), Franklin could command a stage with her larger than life presence and deep, controlled vocal power. No honorific title related to royalty suffices when it comes to the female boss of soul music.
Miss Franklin was a Detroiter for most of her life. The sounds of the church choir elevated her to positions of influence within the Gospel arena. Later she would, at the behest of her father, forgo signing to Motown Records and sign with Columbia Records. During these years at other record labels like Atlantic and Arista, The CEO racked up multiple hit singles including “Respect,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” and “Think” amongst a host of others. Her musical genius lied in her ability to take written words and make them animate like actors upon a stage. Inflection, runs, chants, ad-libs, and a steady flow all helped to propel Miss Franklin to heights within the genres of gospel, rock, R&B, and of course soul. What set her apart from her contemporaries including Dionne Warwick, Patti Labelle and others was not actually some mystical gift but years of study and practice coupled with genetic fortune. She could’ve let all of this bypass her. She could have languished or rested on her laurels from the past. Instead, she forged a career that lasted for over half a century.
The CEO of soul stood for the individual rights movement by just permitting her voice to grace a microphone. Her catalogue is replete with examples of songs that have underlying messages of breaking through chains to experience liberty for all races of people. Her stirring renditions of songs by Sam Cooke like “A Change is Gonna Come,” Donny Hathaway’s “Someday We’ll All Be Free” and Nina Simone’s composition “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black” cemented her placement in the pantheon of singers who could cover classics. These songs amongst others represent the range of topics that Miss Franklin could address with her voice.
No matter what the case was, the CEO of soul could sing a song that could be listened to while attending a Baptist church service, a rock concert, or an intimate time with one’s lover. Packed within her voice was pain, sweetness, measured anger, and great uplift. She could belt out at least three octaves within her range.
Miss Franklin stood for the promise of knocking down doors to let younger people through the industry. Without her passionate, powerful presence scores of singers may have never been able to break free from carnival or amusement park billing.
Her work transcended all races, classes, and varied backgrounds of people. As her words continue to reverberate around the corridors of the world, the CEO of soul will forever be remembered for her grace, her style, and her elegance. Is that why people are so quick to use royal honorifics? Is it because she was so regal that it conjured in the minds of many to address her as the Queen? While the sentiment is understood and recognized, the CEO title fits her because she actually earned the title through her sheer force of will and fully developed talent.
Miss Franklin sectioned off a place in the history of America and the planet. As the youngest walking to the oldest talking mouth her words, it is possible to see her lasting impact. From the start, Miss Franklin could bring to bear the essentials of a diva. This is the literal sense of the word as applied to the CEO of soul because she could really sing opera. That illustrates not only her great range but her depth and knowledge of various styles of music.
Her shoes will never be filled again. She will be hailed as the mother of all things now called neo-soul, new gospel, and even elements of hip hop. As a rule in order to use her samples, Aretha demanded rap artists like Kanye West (“School Spirit”) and Cam’ron (“Daydreamin’”) to delete the expletives from their recordings. She ensured that her legacy would not be tarnished by profanities even if it was her sped up or another singer stepped in to try to match Miss Franklin’s prowess. This is yet another of her many boss moves that she executed throughout her life and career. Aretha Franklin could shut down shows, draw tears to the eyes of a former president, and carry a tune more simply and effortlessly than any singer before or since her inception.
The CEO of soul brought decency to the genres that she dabbled in where shifty figures lurk throughout. She kept her head up and poised herself as a figure of great value and self-worth. Miss Franklin never let the ugliness of racism, misogyny, or other evils creep into her consciousness and corrupt her pristine vision. She never wavered or faltered in her determination to bring selfishness and and self-pride to the fore. Miss Franklin’s indelible spirit allowed her to draw together the various elements of the blues that perpetuated through her entire collection of works. She continued to perform even when her health was failing.
In interviews, she always kept an air of mystery. She never let too much out or presented herself as anything other than a woman of supreme esteem. The CEO of soul stood for the idea that everyone ought to be free and respect themselves.