Will Sellers: God Save the Queen


by Will Sellers

If she had lived, the queen of soul would have turned 80 this month. For at least 60 of her 76 years, Aretha Franklin shared her vocal gift all over the world. In addition to bringing him both critical and commercial success, his voice has become a symbol for a new generation of Americans.

Older generations rooted in static, smug smugness frowned upon popular culture for spawning new forms of entertainment and activism that fostered the expression of unique, different, and contrasting ideas.

Using the appeal of her voice, Aretha would challenge many preconceived notions, and the acceptance of her music would push the boundaries that had previously limited others based on race, gender, religion, and politics. She created an audience that was initially drawn to her vocal virtuosity, but later accepted her status as an agent of change.

After he was born in Memphis, his family joined the North migrating crowd in Detroit to escape the overt racism of the time and embrace the promise of greater economic opportunity. Her first performances were at the church her father ran, and although she considered Detroit her home, she was never part of the “Motown” sound. Commenting on her life, Barry Gordy remembers seeing her sing and play the piano when she was a little girl. The way she escaped Gordy’s talent search is remarkable.

Initially, her commercial success was not evident as her early records under the Columbia label failed to chart. It wasn’t until she moved on to Atlantic records and the influence of Jerry Wexler that her career took off. After almost ten lackluster Columbia albums, Wexler hooked her up with Rick Hall’s Fame Studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. After this providential decision, her career took off and she never looked back.

Remembering Aretha requires focusing on more than the appeal of her music; it’s also about her as a person, the times she lived in and the influence she had. For most musicians, having a voice with an Aretha range would suffice, but she also understood the nuances of music and how to write songs from her life experiences that conveyed strong emotions with a powerful cadence and drew people in. people to her. She was also talented enough to realize that she could take the works of others, modify them, and make them her own. In fact, his signature song, “Respect,” was written and originally recorded by Otis Redding. Aretha’s rendition changed the song and the meaning to not just demand respect, but to demand it.

This respect was not limited to Redding’s marital relationship, but concerned American society as a whole, the dignity of the individual and his acceptance as an equal. After all, what most people really want is respect; a recognition that they are important and that they matter. In the 1960s, it was strong medicine.

His songs increased acceptance of the civil rights movement among baby boomers, but also caused friction in families caught in the midst of cultural and social change. It’s hard to believe now, but in the beginning, his record covers avoided featuring his picture so as not to offend the parents of young white people. But Aretha, like Miles Davis and other black artists, demanded an end to this “whitewashing,” and the album covers that followed removed another vestige of racism in the recording industry.

Aretha’s support for social change was more subtle in that she crossed racial barriers because her music appealed to all audiences. The clear implications of his concerts and the success of his records were that racial discrimination had no place among the new generation. Her support for racial equality would become more pronounced as she used her broad appeal to advocate for change and equal opportunity.

And the scale of his success and the popularity of his music would support the idea that raw talent could overcome discrimination. Its worldwide acceptance has helped spread American popular culture and promote American values ​​not only among our allies, but also our enemies.

In fact, it was a custom between Russia and its Soviet Union to dwell on issues that divided Americans. The Kremlin was a master at sowing discord between and within Western democracies. Popular culture was a vehicle for highlighting the shortcomings of the West in general and America in particular. But culturally, Russia was unable to compete with postwar American pop culture. In the past, it was a matter of strategy to invite a Paul Robeson or Marian Anderson to perform and highlight how they were mistreated in their home countries, but young Soviets, like American teenagers, were ready for something different. Not everyone accepted Soviet entertainment, and all Soviet pop culture had an expiration date of 1930 something.

Aretha, among other artists, was their worst nightmare. From his style of music to his success and acceptance, there was nothing to tap into. The Soviets would try to create their own state Russian pop culture, but it just couldn’t compete with Aretha and America. The sounds of young America flooded the airwaves worldwide, and there weren’t enough jammers to stop the infiltration of these innovative new sounds and musicians.

Initially, there was an attempt to ban the music, but few people could resist Aretha and so many others. But worse for the Soviet ideology, it represented the democratic spirit of America which accepted musicians based on their performance ability and popular appeal. There was no way to use Aretha as an example of racially suppressed talent to pit America against Russia. Even their young people liked what they heard and tried to emulate Aretha’s music and style, but under the Soviet system there was no chance for a popular Russian artist to achieve similar success. .

Although there are myriad causes for the end of the Cold War, Aretha and other offshoots of American popular culture helped win the global culture war one note at a time.

Will Sellers was nominated by Governor Kay Ivey to the Alabama Supreme Court in 2017. He is best reached at [email protected]

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