By Vernalee

Aretha Franklin doesn’t know me from Adam’s house cat. I have waved to her countless times and looked her straight in the eye on many occasions as she performed. I was once so close to her in the audience that she could have sat in my lap. She and I have had so many good times together despite the fact that we have never physically met. However, we know each other well philosophically in the spirit, if not in the flesh. We have grown up together though miles apart. I regard her as a very close friend. My, oh my, how we have shared experiences that only she could sing about. As I am an aficionado and know the lyrics to all of her songs, word by word, I can eloquently and emotionally hum with Aretha.

Music is a universal connector to our emotions. For sure, it has transformation powers. I will never forget the day that I placed Aretha Franklin’s greatest hits in my car as I pulled out of the garage. Listening to her CD’s can be intoxicating even when you are a non-drinker like me. By the time I arrived at my destination about 30 minutes later, I had gone through several emotional phases. I felt the sensitivities that Aretha sang about as she melodically belted out “Chain of fools, Respect, Ain’t never loved a man, Do Right Man, Bridge over troubled waters, Don’t play that song for me, and Ain’t no way” in her never to be duplicated angelic voice. Admittedly I am musically prejudiced, but nobody can sing about life, relationships, and the power of love like Aretha. She can really stir you up! Proving it was more than an idiomatic coincidence, when I reached my destination, clearly I was an emotional wreck after having experienced several mood swings. It took me about 15 minutes to compose myself. What an effect her songs had on me that day!

Without question, Aretha’s velvety voice has an incredible octave of ranges. The range of the emotions that she sings about extends just as high as the notes that she can hit. Many women have felt the intensity of her voice encapsulated in their emotional souls as they have experienced similar feelings – some concealed; others revealed. Emotions ranging from being deeply in love to a fool in love; from having a man that logic told you was an unwise choice, a man that you could not turn a loose to courageously leaving him like a thief in the night; from being a weak woman to one who demanded the utmost respect! Aretha’s songs cover a myriad of emotions that she has undoubtedly felt, experienced, and was audacious enough to sing. Love and the pain of hurt can make one do that. Wasn’t it B. B. King who bellowed, “he lives the life he sings about in his song?” Many songs are often merely life experiences set to music.

Singers, like Aretha Franklin (excuse me Aretha), as I have been on a first name basis with her for over 40 years – sing the life that they live or have seen others live. For certain, her songs have touched upon many of my emotions. In spite of it all, I have felt relieved and rejuvenated through her music. Sometimes, it is refreshing to know that you are not alone; that someone else has felt what you felt particularly when you thought otherwise. To know that others have been young fools, middle age fools, and in some rare cases old fools is not necessarily consoling, but it is a fact of life. Recognizing that others have endured pain and came out better in the exit than the entrance provides a therapeutic reassurance. Surely, there is nothing new under the sun!

Many of Aretha’s songs taught me lessons as they laid out a recovery roadmap. She is unequivocally the Queen of soul and has been crowned such. She can magnificently sing her innate gospel and make the baby grand piano majestically walk across the stage before coming back to her so that she can rhythmically touch the ebony and ivory keys. Lest not forget when she spontaneously filled in for Luciano Pavarotti singing the operatic favorite, “Nessun Dorma.” What a natural resource, she is!

My daughter once said “Beyonce is my girl, just as Aretha is yours.” Each generation has their loves; their favorites. Aretha is definitely mine! It’s amazing how close we feel to singers who have brought us through so much heartache as well as pleasure. They can make us cry, laugh, smile, fight, dance, forgive, forget, pray, reminisce…need I say more! That is what songs do as singers and songwriters put their lives – and ours – to music.

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