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Aretha Franklin Embodies Black Female Empowerment

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Aretha Franklin’s voice is world renowned. The pain, struggle, and subsequent liberation behind it isn’t as well known. As we come to terms with her imminent departure from the earthly realm, we will forever cherish one of the most beautiful voices known to man.


The good people of Detroit were the first to find out that late Sunday night, Franklin called upon family and friends as the legendary singer is in “grave condition” after her 2010 diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. She is surrounded by her close family, who are requesting prayers and privacy.

Celebrities and friends took to Twitter, where heartfelt wishes were shared. Local Detroit news anchor and Franklin’s good friend, Evrod Cassimy, expressed sadness over the singer’s grave condition.

Even Eric Braeden, from her favorite soap opera, “The Young and The Restless,” tweeted about his love and concern for the Queen of Soul:

Franklin’s legacy has had an incredible impact on my own life. As a native Detroiter, I’ve grown up knowing that my hometown has always been rooted in the trenches of black empowerment, including the Civil Rights Movement. Aretha Franklin was woven into that tapestry.

She was the daughter of prominent Detroit minister, Reverend C.L. Franklin, of New Bethel Baptist Church and he was an outstanding gospel performer in his own right. Reverend Franklin’s career exposed his daughter to gospel and soul music and contemporary black icons such as Smokey Robinson, Clara Ward, and Martin Luther King Jr.

Despite her father’s influence, Franklin carved out her niche in the music industry even negotiating her way out of her stifling recording contract with Columbia Records and signing with the more liberal Atlantic Records in 1966, where she was allowed more creative freedom. Her uncanny way of bridging gospel and secular music revolutionized the sound of modern soul music in a way no one else had.

By 1968, Aretha Franklin was considered an important symbol of black pride and soul music. Her songs, You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman, Young, Gifted, and Black, and Think became anthems reflecting the growing militancy in Black Female Empowerment.

“Respect” would become the song that she was known for although she wasn’t the first person to sing it. Her version came at a time where Voter Rights were being established, and Black women were playing more prominent roles in groups like the Black Panther Party.

Franklin said the song was “the need of a nation, the need of the average man and woman in the street, the businessman, the mother, the fireman, the teacher everyone wanted respect. … The song took on monumental significance.”

The hit song, quickly, made it to the top of the charts, and in 2002, it was added to the Library of Congress’ National Registry.

She was also pivotal in challenging Americans on their thoughts of racial oppression. Her Amazing Grace album released in 1970 which returned her to her church roots sold over two million copies and made her one of the most successful gospel singers of the era. Franklin appeared on the cover of Time magazine and received an award from Martin Luther King Jr.

Franklin created a place in the music industry for black women through her perseverance and dedication. Not that others didn’t, but SHE made strides of which black women had only dreamed. January 3rd, 1987, Aretha Franklin became the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She was in the second group of inductees but took her rightful place next to other Black music royalty such as James Brown, Sam Cooke, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and Ray Charles.

In 2009, she performed at the inauguration of former President Obama, and in 2014, she was honored by his administration as one of the “foremothers” of American music.

Her talent, dedication, and ambition truly embody Black female empowerment.

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