August of 2018, we said farewell to two American legends, Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin and Senator John McCain. It was somewhat mesmerizing that on the same day and almost simultaneously in Detroit Michigan, Aretha Franklin was being eulogized in a ceremony befitting a queen, while John McCain was being memorialized with presidential honors in Washington, D.C.
I was struck with awe at how these two iconic figures were so different, yet they united us through music, culture, and politics. Both used their platforms to bring people together. Their work personified forgiveness, reconciliation, and respect.
While Aretha will always be known as the Queen of Soul, she was a civil rights icon that used her voice to represent African Americans and women. Although she recorded and sang many songs, Aretha catapulted into fame after recording a song written by the late Otis Redding titled Respect. Otis originally wrote and recorded the song in 1965. He talked about how a man asked for respect from his lover. Two years later, Aretha rearranged the song to focus on the strength of a woman. Her recording of Respect took place several years before the feminist movement happened but during the tumultuous civil rights era. Aretha flipped the song around to focus on female power. She didn’t ask for respect, she demanded respect and spelled it out when singing it just in case there were any questions about her request, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T found out what it means to me.” Through music, Aretha empowered women of all cultures and race to empower themselves.
Aretha began her singing career in the church. A lot of people were upset when she started singing secular music and recorded her first “nonchurch” album. As a kid, I remember hearing adults say she can’t do both. She should either sing in the church or the world. Aretha stood her ground and sang both gospel and R&B music. The album she produced in 1967 “I never Loved a Man the Way I Love You” put her in millions of households, made her a popular legend, and changed what is now popular music. Today when I listen to Aretha Franklin’s music I feel like I’ve been taken to church.
John McCain was a widely respected congressman. He lost his bid for President of the United States in 2000 to George W. Bush and in 2008 to Barack Obama. I read that it was a surprise to both Bush and Obama when Senator McCain asked them to speak at his funeral. I’ve always given McCain credit for being very strategic in his politics even though I did not agree with his stance on several issues. One being he voted not to make Martin Luther King a federal holiday. He later acknowledged he regretted that decision. Having Bush and Obama speak at his funeral provides a better understanding of what he stood for. John McCain was a great example of how members of Congress should conduct themselves. He showed true bipartisanship and that it’s not always about being right but doing what is right for this country. To me, it shows that even in death Senator McCain is still giving voice to unity and respect.
What is synonymous about the Queen of Soul from Detroit, Michigan and the Maverick Senator from Phoenix, Arizona? They both gave respect. As I send a big thank you to the Franklin and McCain family for sharing their loved ones with us, I also say a little prayer for peace and comfort.