Aretha’s biography, "Aretha: From These Roots" will be in book stores this month and I am anxiously awaiting to read the book. I’d like to share with my fellow SPer’s something I wrote for my publication about Aretha, the woman I am a writer (because I can’t sing the way she sings, so I try to write the way she writes) and the woman I admire. I know this is long, but bear with me. I feel a need to share
When I was about eight or nine years old I heard a voice that literally made me tear the teen idol posters of David Cassidy, Donny Osmond and Michael Jackson off my wall.
I had heard the voice before but this time I listened and the power in the tone was similar to a powerful mirror reflecting my inner emotions and feelings, some I didn’t even know existed. I didn’t understand what I was feeling, but I did know I had to know that voice more intimately, because I believed the voice was like the old saying, "coming straight from God’s mouth to my ears." The old saying is the best way I can describe what I hear in the music of Aretha Franklin.
Franklin is known as The Queen of Soul, Lady Soul or the First Lady of Soul, but for me, I just call her Aretha as though she is a best friend, because her music is a good friend.
I don’t idolize Aretha or wish I was she, but maybe I’m a jealous of the freedom she possesses when she sings. The freedom Aretha has to sing about her pain and joy through recordings or live performances is to pour out blood, sweat and tears in an emotional nakedness in front of the universe without any fear. Aretha is saying to world when she sings what I want to say when I write, "Here I am, and all I am asking from you is just give me a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T." The day I tore those posters off of my bedroom wall I was emancipated and though I was shy and sometimes even lonely still, I had my baggage packed to begin a journey toward myself. The voice helped me build a fire deep in my soul so I could travel on a spiritual journey.
For me Aretha’s voice is the sun among the stars. Her voice is like a cup of warm tea late at night or early in the morning; a smile from a stranger; a hand in hand walk in the moonlight; a dandelion on a windy day; candlelight during a thunderstorm; a bubble bath; streaks of lightning before rain; whispers between friends and a book of poetry.
Aretha’s music was so influential in my life I decided to become a writer so I could be a bridge over troubled waters and try and live a "Wholy Holy" life. I began to learn not to be a link in the "Chain of Fools" by searching for a "Dr. Feelgood," and cured myself of "daydreaming" about a knight in shining armor coming to save me from myself. I decided to be "a natural woman" and quit depending on others to "save me" from my personal demons.
When I declared my independence I had Aretha’s songs as my personal anthems. Though the hard work and determination led me to more hard work, I finally learned to believe in myself and with the help of God first and my soul fire and Aretha’s voice I made it through some rocky times. But in 1994 just when I thought I was on the right path to spirituality, I discovered life is not always fair and the winding road I had mapped out had some detours. I was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia in 1994 and just when I was retreating from the world, a few months later my mother died suddenly in her sleep. The personal demons returned to my life and brought friends. Times before I thought I had reached bottom, but I learned in 1994 bottom has a trick door to a dungeon and I slipped into the darkness where there was no spirit.
I was shouting save me but I thought nobody not even God could hear me.
But I had forgotten to listen to myself and the voices of God and Aretha. The voice that helped to save me before was still there but I had become deaf without a dream. Slowly and unsteadily I heard something, the voice was became clear again, different but stronger and I began to dust my dreams off and then remembered I had to reach back like Aretha and let go to find a deeper love.
During that time I was a single mother of two on welfare because I had given up. After crying in my beer and drowning in my own tears for so long I finally decided God still loved me and the voice was still there. I worked my way off of welfare and quit daydreaming about being a writer and became a writer.
In 1996 I was hired full time as a reporter for a newspaper and I underwent chemotherapy treatments, not only did the cancer go into remission but so did my personal demons. And as the demons faded I began to bury them in the past. Two years ago because of personal columns I wrote about Aretha and how she helped "get me through" much bad times, including those awful chemotherapy treatments. A co-worker sent those writing to Aretha’s record company and the company sponsored a trip for my oldest daughter and I to fly to New York to see Aretha in a gospel concert at the Lincoln Center and to meet her backstage.
When I walked backstage after Aretha’s gospel concert I felt like a fan, because I started thinking I wanted to get a picture with her and get an autograph. In my fan mode I did sneak a Q-tip with her makeup on it from a table where she was sitting. But before I started acting like a deranged fan I remembered the posters I tore off my wall and how I was transformed from girl to woman with the help of the voice. I was carrying six yellow roses to present to the Queen of Soul. Her publicist had told me yellow roses were Aretha’s favorite flowers. After I was introduced to Aretha, I handed her the six yellow roses, which for me represented the state of Texas and her golden voice. I gave her the flowers and as she cradled the bouquet, I said to her, "These flowers are just a small way to say thank you for all of the music you have given to me through the years."
The meeting with Aretha wasn’t the end of a dream as I wrote later in a journal. That moment for me was the beginning of new dreams. I described the moment back then this way: "I believed there was no need for more words or actions because I finally was able to give Aretha something back and I knew at that moment unspoken words could become screams of insight."
My unspoken words were my voice and Aretha listened to me and when we shook hands that night we fused our voices in soul-saving harmony.
Amelia Feathers, the other A.F.