The death of Aretha Franklin at 76 is a great loss not for black people alone, but for all of us, white and black, who were mesmerized by her voice.
That powerful, melodic, extraordinary voice pierced our sensibilities during the 1960s and ’70s, and in ways that were unimaginable for white kids growing up in all white suburbs in the relatively segregated America of that time and day.
Ms. Franklin’s song, “Respect,” stands as one of the all-time great musical coming-together songs for the ages.
It was a song sung by all of us, black or white, and often shouted out with vigor when we were young, because it was a song about the energy of a great a generation coming up — a giving-birth song if you will, reminiscent of the few great things that rocked our world when we were much younger than we are today.
To have been a white teenager in an all-white community, in an all-white America at the time that song came out, was to have become transformed by something one had never heard — and which we will likely never hear again.
The raw power, passion, and innocence in her voice, her class and style, always evident from the time she was just a youngster until she stood at the top of her industry, was what made Franklin an icon for my generation — and for every generation struggling to be heard.
She wasn’t just a black musical icon. She sang for all of us. She hit the high notes for all of us trying to figure out who we were and where we were heading.
Her loss is not black or white.
Her loss is every man’s loss, every woman’s loss, every Baby Boomers’ loss.
Her death at 76 is one of the bricks falling out of the wall erected during our lives.
Her brilliance wasn’t black or white.
It was just unadorned, gorgeous, riveting, pure brilliance.
Musical power unleashed.
Her music transcended our racist tendencies and color.
She had a voice quite unlike any other we had heard when she came into the marketplace of a radically changing America.
White and black America took notice.
There was nothing to compare her to.
Her loss is a giant stab in the heart for those of us whose lives are changed just a bit by rare entertainers who bridge the gap between color, class, and shared history.
She stood out.
She was a giant.
Her death is a bit like experiencing our own.
We have lost a great human being with the death of Aretha Franklin.
She brought together millions of people, black and white, in ways that can hardly be imagined.
And her song, “Respect,” well, that’s a song for the ages.