She was ours.
So many of us called her simply “Aretha.”
For so long, there was only one person so singularly associated with these six-letters. We felt her name was as inherently regal as any crown.
She was our North Star of sound and of soul. In a world where Blackness and Black womanhood were and are constantly under siege, her presence was a defiant pronouncement that neither could be seized.
Her deliberate genius flew over the Motor City and beyond, fortifying the lives of those who had the good fortune to be born Black, and the even better fortune to be born a Black woman. She was a skylark whose wings stretched across a sky as polluted as its people are potentialed.
And while, for so many of us who loved her, Miss Franklin would have been more apropos; she must have known that we knew her in the hearts of our Saturday morning house cleanings, in our Sunday gospel-only music playings and in the Monday to Friday loves and losses of our mothers’ soulful musings.
She was our rose that grew through concrete, as humanly flawed as she was diva-like. She was our living, breathing miracle—proof that one could not only endure but survive the most brutal of abuse.
All her life, she could shoot the proverbial “refuse” with the likes of cats called “Smokey” and others who made us “Wonder,” but grew, over the course of her life to take very, very like of it.
The canopy of her shade could as easily reveal to us who could sing, as who simply wore beautiful gowns…as well as those who she wasn’t going to touch.
Even as a girl, she sang like an angel; but she grew in measure to use her voice to fight every devil in hell this side of heaven.
We know these devils well, racism, sexism, and poverty—and she fought them frequently and well, whether adorned in a floor-length gown wrapped in the finest mink fur or that iconic Soul Train orange netted shirt with only a corresponding brassiere for cover.
That’s right, Aretha did not suffer the chains of fools or any other foolishness when it came to the size or display of her body—a body that despite being the home to the greatest voice of the twentieth century had endured injuries that others find unthinkable and unspeakable—and many victims, through no fault of their own, find unbearable.
An unrepentant call to “Think” about the way we could love “The Weight” of our lives even when “It Hurts Like Hell,” she was our valiant attempt at self-love.
The black woman who sung “Amazing Grace” and who demanded “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” could, decades later, live to extol: she was “So Damn Happy” because her enduring brand of black genius could neither be stamped out by time or by the gentrification of traditionally black spaces—and of Detroit either.
Do you have any idea how incredibly, unbelievably hard it is for a black woman in this experience to be damned happy instead of merely damned? Or to amass a multi-million dollar fortune, collected in cash payments in full view of those who never gave serious thought to a black woman’s purse or what was in it.
She was a rock, steady, a literal and figurative matriarch on whose lap we laid down our burdens as though she were the riverside she gazed out upon in the days before her death.
Who among us will fight now that she studies war no more? She’s laid her own burdens down now. And, like the Skylark she once sang about, she’s riding high on wings of her own.