Why We Need To Give Respect To Aretha Franklin And The Dying Craft Of Artistry
When it was announced that the “Queen of Soul,” Aretha Franklin was dying, my initial reaction was sorrow at the imminent loss of a gem, who represented a time when being an artist was only possible if you were truly artful. And that could encompass whatever method of artistry that permitted that level of dedication and sacrifice — that is woefully missing these days.
Thanks to the climate of superficiality mixed in with heaps of self-adulation and pompousness, not to mention high doses of delusion, we can only afford to recognize over-night sensations, that are popular for being popular, and posses a background story that goes viral on the basis that it sticks to the “rags-to-riches phenomenon.”
Actual talent isn’t necessary these days, because it’s all about the race to spew out energetic tracks that are re-worked constantly to keep up with erratic change in temperature.
And what’s even more fascinating is how very little respect those of us have for the artists who did do the work, and produced the stuff that doesn’t just change the landscape of an industry, but also influences the mental trajectory for anyone who is lucky enough to have more than just a taste.
Lauryn Hill comes to mind when I think about the greats of my generation, who have given so much as a token of their generosity, which happens to be the most selfless and invaluable gesture of goodwill from originators.
Hill’s phenomenal masterpiece, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is currently taking up residence in the illustrious vault of the Library of Congress, and while that honor is well-deserved, there’s also the magnificence of the young Black woman who made me feel included in the narrative of delightful complexities — that can only be depicted with soulfully lyric banter.
The girl who displayed the language of hip hop with the Fugees and then elevated the universal appeal with her personalized affection for a genre she uncannily perfected, has spent the years since her Grammy winning days, staying relevant with controversy and growing disrespect from the public.
She’s now embroiled in a battle of wills against a nemesis who is determined to discredit her success at whatever cost. Whether he’s within his rights to do so, doesn’t really compare to the horror of existing in a world where a talentless Cardi B is considered worthier than a woman who spent her impressionable years making enough of an impression — to warrant an instinctual level of reverence — no matter what.
But the days of unfiltered artistry is dying out, and that’s what makes the passing of Aretha Franklin very hard to take.
As a Generation Xer, my exposure to the Queen and all the others who embodied that realm of never-ending hits that have been spiritually packaged as classics — was through the musical library of relatives. They were lucky enough to be present during an era that birthed the kind of shit that will never be replicated.
We will never again witness the startling audacity of hard-earned labor, that breeds the beginnings of fandom, that settles into fascination for what most of us can’t render — before becoming an endearing act of profound respect for the creator and what has been supremely created.
When I first heard the infectious “Giving Him Something He Can Feel” from the nineties girl group, En Vogue, I was enthralled and unaware that this was merely a sample from Franklin’s treasure chest. And then years later, I treated myself to a CD that contained the soundtrack from the movie Sparkle. That was my introduction to the breathtakingly alluring voice from an artist who used her art to generously remind us of how the greats make it look so easy.
Her career mimicked the dignity of her station and like her counterparts, she seamlessly evolved with the times and collaborated with the up and comers by lending her vocals to one of my faves — “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” with the late George Michael. There was also the anthem of the eighties “Freeway of Love” that made the global trek, and managed to reach me in Lagos, Nigeria.
And all through her stunning and incomparable trajectory, there was always a feeling of practiced security whenever she made appearances.
From the performance at the inauguration of the very first Black president of the United States to being the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom — and all the plethora of honors that formulate the foundation of a national treasure — Franklin evoked exactly what Barack Obama so aptly surmised.
“American history wells up when Aretha sings.” “Nobody embodies more fully the connection between the African-American spiritual, the blues, R&B, rock and roll — the way that hardship and sorrow were transformed into something full of beauty and vitality and hope.”
While that sounds spectacularly accurate, for me it always comes back to the painful demise of pure artistry, and how the precious few who did it for the glory of love and the commitment to laborious requirements, are rightfully leaving us with evidential capacity of what once was, and will never be again.
It’s sensationally gratifying that the Queen of Soul was once paired with woman who also electrified us with the symbolic translation of melodic jewels that will never fade. “A Rose Is Still a Rose” is the surviving magic between Franklin and Lauryn Hill that happened a decade ago, and resulted in a gold-plated album for the older royalty.
As we bid adieu to another orchestrator of what we fondly rely on when we need to be rescued from the dullness of the present, there’s the wonderment of how we assumed that the good times would continue to roll — with or without the blessing from above.
The future of creators in these hostile times signals a forecast that’s not so favorable because despite the palette for excellence, we’ve succumbed to the theory of instant gratification, and the branding of mediocre entries that have enough plastered hearts to secure misplaced endorsements.
The passing of legends serves as the emptying of vessels of religion, that united us once before, when all we had was the rhythm of our hearts that followed the beat to manuscripts of memorable feats — tracing our familial and selfied scrapbook.
How will it all be measured decades from now, when the dust blows away the layers to reveal pebbles that aren’t strong enough to resist the windfall of the majestic yesteryears — that will still stand firm with fastened nostalgia?
Thankfully, the host of angels that are assembling don’t have to worry because they did what needed to be done without asking anything in return.
And that’s why we give complete respect to Aretha Franklin, and the artistry of her craft that is slowing leaving us. We respect those who are quietly paying homage to the wealth of fortitude and divine adherence to the product — and it’s polished finish.
The sparkle will never stop flashing for attention, even when the Queen takes her final bow.