ARETHA FRANKLIN: QUEEN OF OUR SOULS
By Tolson Banner
Nationwide (BlackNews.com) — In many ways the litany of songs Aretha Franklin (THE QUEEN) bestowed upon us mirrored more than love between a man and a woman, or the lack thereof. I guess it could be said, the Queen of Soul crooned from the bowels of her spirit about the relationship between America and as Curtis Mayfield would say, “The people who are darker than blue.”
The Queen obliterated genres. The Queen gave us deep feeling and meaning to all the harsh conditions we faced in America: a field holla goddess-like cry; dignity in the work songs; sweet joy in the morning spirituals; shouts-from-the-back-of-the-church gospels; deep moaning blues; jazz be-bopping; rhythm and blues doo-wopping. The Queen served up a healing/soulful polyrhythmic mix for our troubled souls.
It is almost like each song the Queen delivered told a story about our journey to a foreign land, the horrors we would endure while at the same time giving us the strength to persevere.
When we crossed the threshold at Goree Island, we had no idea we would be walking into an enslavement terror heretofore unknown to humankind. And once we were forced onto the ship called Jesus there was no mercy shown for the travails that lay ahead. The turbulence of the Atlantic waters tossed us about like rag dolls and we learned how to “ROCK STEADY” for our survival.
We quickly recognized we would need to build a spiritual “BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATERS”. There were those of us who would rather die than be enslaved and threw themselves overboard. Historians have noted the shackled enslaved Africans still on board would murmur, “He gone home.” We could surmise: to find an ANGEL. Upon reaching the shores of Jamestown, VA all we could here from the slave masters’ bellicose commands was “JUMP, JUMP, JUMP TO IT”!
As cold as winter in the colonies, we were stripped of our identities, culture, and religion. We would find solace in the warmth of our spirits and our ancestors. As Malcolm X would say, “Just because a cat has kittens in a stove, you don’t call them biscuits.” An AFRICAN IS STILL AN AFRICAN. In the Queen’s words, “A ROSE IS STILL A ROSE”. We took that to heart and would “SAY A LITTLE PRAYER” to call forth our heaven on earth — not in the bye and bye!
With the civil war coming to an close, emancipation began swirling in the air. We wanted to believe we had a “DO RIGHT MAN” in President Lincoln and a “DO RIGHT WOMAN” in America. On both accounts, we were sadly mistaken and realized we were only a “CHAIN OF FOOLS”. We were turned back during Reconstruction, forlorn and bewildered – betrayed with the removal of all federal troops from the south. Forty acres and a mule was just DAY DREAMING. Consideration or discussions about reparations with America became, “DON’T PLAY THAT SONG”.
Jim Crow swept across the land like boll weevil. Marauding gangs consumed with white nationalism punctuated the American landscape with “strange fruit”. Protests and marches ensued endlessly. We stood at the crossroads between violence and non-violence. Not fully recovered from the four little girls bombed in the Birmingham church; a shot rang out in Memphis, a body fell. The King of Love was dead. In total disbelief, we said, “AINT NO WAY”.
The lyrics from ELEANOR RIGBY reverberated with us singing the chorus, “All the lonely people where do they belong?” The political milieu continued to offer a fox or a wolf. We turned to each other for support. It appeared as if our compass for moving forward had gone awry but there was a light at the end of the tunnel and it wasnt the train coming back at us. We elected the first African-American president. On that accord we demanded, R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
Just recently, the Queen was called home by her celestial designer – her maker, where she now joins the ancestors. Collectively, we all sighed. The fact is the Queen had fulfilled what she came here to do: to be of service; her divine purpose complete. I had one last request. I asked the Queen to “CALL ME” the second, the minute, the hour, the moment she get there. She did. Thank you QUEEN for the spiritual call back.
Tolson Banner is a writer and columnist.