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Now Playing | Hurts Like Hell by Aretha Franklin
Me walking this old crusty, musty, dirty Earth and ARETHA ‘QUEEN OF SOUL’ FRANKLIN not being alive is not something I’ve prepared for. It’s not something I ever thought I would have to prepare for, but here we are. Aretha Louise Franklin has gone to Glory and I’m unsure what to do with myself. Is morning acceptable? Should I celebrate her life instead?
Let’s take it back a bit… I, unfortunately, am not one of those lucky people who can tell you how old I was or where I was when I first heard an Aretha song. She (much like Journey and Bon Jovie is to white people) was just there. Aretha was probably played in the hospital room the day I was born. Most children of the black American experience born in or after the 60’s was born to Aretha simply being. There was no beginning. She just was. So, I can’t tell you when I first heard Aretha Franklin sing and how I was blown away by it, but I can tell you when I first connected with her.
I was 11 years old, aggressively lonely, and had just come home from the worst summer of my life. I don’t want to get too deep in my business but know I was abused pretty badly (and it took me nearly a decade to realize that. Can you BELIEVE?) and my home life wasn’t great by any stretch. The only thing I had to keep me sane at the time were books and my iPod (those things were brand new back then, so I was THAT GIRL). This was back when you had to load physical CDs onto your computer, then to your iTunes software, THEN wait a couple of hours for it to transfer the music onto the iPod. I was looking through my dad’s CDs. There was Ruth Brown, Little Richard, The Temptations, The Supremes, Nina Simone, Muddy Waters, Aretha Franklin, and literally hundreds more. I loaded as much as I could onto my little 16 gigabytes of data. And I listened to them incessantly. Somehow, I got stuck on Aretha. I think it’s because by this point, she was a grandmother exuding grandmotherly qualities and my own grandmother had just done a complete 180 degree turn on me and gone from being my secondary (and sometimes primary, depending on my mother’s work schedule) caretaker, to an uncompromising disciplinarian who makes me feel like nothing I do is good or worth talking about. I fell down the musical rabbit hole. I asked my mother if I could make ‘(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman’ my ringtone because It was such a beautiful song (and I was fake deep). The answer was a big no. According to her, it was too grown.
When I was 17, Patti LaHelle’s web series Got 2 B Real came out and introduced me to Aretha’s shade. It was fictionalized but based in reality and it introduced me to a whole new world. I was born shady, but seeing Aretha (the character) sit and drag Patti, Dionne, Mariah, Beyoncé, Diana, and literally every other sangin’ heiffa brought it to the forefront for me. I’ll never be able to thank Patti LaHelle for the joy she’s created by making lighthearted shade something fun to do with friends (and nem).
Nearly every day, from 11 to now 24, I’ve listened to Aretha Franklin. She was my musical grandmother. She was a musical ICON. She was a shade extraordinaire. She was literal history. Detroit history. US history. Black history. World history. She was ACCOMPLISHED and she was LOVED.