I first heard that voice when we were a gaggle of schoolgirls auditioning for the school choir. Sister Mary Magdalene left the piano and brought out the record player.
Thousands of miles from her hometown Detroit, Aretha Franklin’s voice filled the music room in my school in Patna, singing Amazing Grace. Never made it to the choir but Aretha’s voice stayed with me.
Growing up, I knew I was going to marry a man who would drive a pink Cadillac. Nothing less. They laughed at me, a pink Cadillac? Pink? No Indian man would drive a pink car they said. I wasn’t listening…
I had ‘places to see/ I brought all the maps with me/ So I jump right in, it ain’t no sin/ Take a ride in my machine/ City traffic movin’ way too slow/ Drop the pedal and go, go, go/ We’re goin’ ridin’ on the freeway of love/ Wind against our backs/ We’re goin’ ridin’ on the freeway of love/ In my pink Cadillac…’
What can you say about a woman who had already made to the cover of the time magazine even before one was born? What mattered to me was discovering Aretha Franklin when I crossed the milestones in my life.
Some happy, others bloodied by relationships. But always held together by the soul that reached out and offered comfort and grace like nothing else.
Aretha Franklin grew up playing the piano in a home located in what was then North Detroit. Her father was friends with Dr Martin Luther King and the head of Motown Records.
She played in the sandbox with Smokey Robinson! The Apollo theatre marquee is lit up with the news of her passing, and I am soaked in tears.
My school-girl crushes and falling out of loves were celebrated with friends playing ‘Ooo Baby Baby’ (Aretha Franklin and Smokey Robinson) and Chain Of Fools…I have a special relationship with the song Chain Of Fools.
Now if you’ve ever had an impossible dream that you have gone and tried to fulfil and failed, but that dream remains, then you must watch the film The Commitments about a Dublin soul band.
Of course, it has an Aretha connection. Among her songs sung beautifully in the film, Chain of Fools stands out. A song that captures the futility of loving something/someone who doesn’t. As does ‘I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Loved You)’...
It is said that some voices are the voice of the decade, a century even. But Aretha’s voice is a voice I am grateful to have found in my lifetime. She made Presidents cry with her Natural Woman (At the Kennedy Centre, President Obama and yes anyone else who heard her sing the words.
‘When my soul was in lost and found/You came to claim it…’ I knew there was someone somewhere who could save my soul as well. Weary of the everyday, I struggled to seek hope in the song, but did not forget the style with which she shrugged off her fur coat and dropped it on the floor.
Who can forget the grey Luke Song hat she wore at President Obama’s first inauguration when she sang, ‘My Country, ‘Tis Of Thee’ and moved millions (the same feeling I get when the National Anthem plays and Rabindranath Tagore’s words, ‘Tav Shubh Naame Jaage, Tav Shubh Asish Maange, Gaahe Tav Jay Gaatha’ hit you smack dab in the solar plexus).
This original RiRi was the first woman to be inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of fame. She outsung Mariah Carey and Celine Dion and has inspired everyone from Beyonce and Annie Lennox.
She sang with George Michael (yes, there was so much more to him than his boy band), and also with Ray Charles: You can stare at the moon by yourself/ Laugh like a loon by yourself/ Spend a lot, go to pot on your own/ There are a lot of things you can do on your own/ But it take two to tango, two to tango/ Get the feeling of romance… And yes while the world (and me) was dancing to bad 80s Bollywood songs, I took time out to make my friends fall in love with her songs and Karaoke at home became ‘Say A Little Prayer For You’ and ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ (which she sang with Keith Richards) and ‘Bridge Over Troubled Waters’ (her soul version is so magical, she took their songs and made them her own!).
The gospel she sang has so much power, even if you do not understand a word of the lyrics you will be overwhelmed by your emotions and be forced to seek out lyrics to Precious Lord, or find your eyes misting over ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’...
She has been an inspiration to her people and her feminist voice has made a difference. And much will be written about her contribution to the civil rights movement in America.They said when Dr. Martin Luther King walked into Cobo Hall to inspire people to make that walk for their life to Washington, the building shook with the response to his words. She was there. She was there singing at his funeral and Michael Jackson’s too. And now it’s her turn. And I don’t know whether tweeting ‘R-E-S-P-E-C-T’ is enough. I have to sing ‘There’s no looking back/ You’re all I need to get by’ or should I sing, ‘Don’t play the song for me/ It fills my heart with pain’...