The angels never get tired of taking the people we can’t afford to lose. And they did it again when the news came down that Aretha Franklin was gone from the world. Her battle with cancer came to an end yesterday at her home in Detroit. And now we’re left to pray that she has been delivered to a better place, while ours just got a little bit colder.
That voice, it could have stolen the moon back in the middle of the day. That one of a kind voice would win her 18 Grammys and sell more than 75 million records, and it resulted in her being the first female performer inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997. These are a few of the many accomplishments of a performer whose gift was majestic and whose timing was providential. But she was so much more than that. Because it was her voice that brought a peaceful conclusion to the tumult that was the late ’60’s, and it was her songs that made us believe in better days.
As a boy, I remember how her lyrics curled up into me and took me to places I hadn’t even discovered yet, much less defined. She had a way of weaving silk out of thin air and remedying the cloudiest of days with these wonderful lyrics born of stardust and Venus and dreams. There wasn’t a musical venue on God’s green earth that could contain that magical voice of hers, because it didn’t belong to us. That voice, it belonged to every single mystery of the universe and its comforting presence allowed no room for darkness, only light.
A beautiful voice can take you with it, but only a truly special voice can take you there and hold you inside that moment. Hers is the voice that always brings me back to a place in time when I hear a certain song. That is what Aretha Franklin means to me, and always will. Because she transports me to a time when her voice spelled the world differently. She was both familiar and ethereal, a magnificent force of nature whose gift screamed the living daylights into the deepest reaches of our souls.
And to this day, and for the rest of the days I’ve got going, I can hear the needle drop on a hot vinyl weave, and I can feel that glorious scratch of anticipation right before she let loose with her miracle of a fire and rain sound. And I will always remember how she spoke to me, in simple terms whose complications were painted so wondrously as to be symphonic.
She didn’t simply make the world a better place, she made it more understandable, more beautiful . . more worth it. She dressed our days and nights in the sincere language of troubled times and dreams come true.
The angels didn’t just steal another soul yesterday. They took our Queen.