Living and Singing Soul with Aretha: Respecting Our Awesome and Soulful Selves.

Author:Karenga, Maulana

Whatever others may say in clearly deserved praise and homage to Aretha Franklin, it is vitally important that we, as persons and a people, speak our own special cultural truth about her and make our own unique assessment of her music, life, service and meaning to us. Here I mean not letting others' descriptions of her and her music serve as an orientation and framework for our own praise and proper due, but rather reaching inside ourselves and understanding and speaking of her in a multiplicity of meaningful and praise-worthy ways drawn and distilled from the depths of our own hearts and our own culture.

This is only right and duly respectful of our special relationship and shared lived-reality with her as a people, as a community in which she was born and came into being, was nurtured and nourished, and learned to live, love, long, hope, struggle, sing and serve. In this we take nothing from others who acclaim her as great and meaningful for them, but we also do not deny or diminish the special identity and common ground we share with her as a people. After all, if Aretha is the Queen of Soul Music, there must be a soul people from which she and her soul music come.

And this soul people is an African people, an African American people, a Black people, shaped by the rigors and realities, the excellences and achievements, the suffering, tragedies and transcendence reflected in our history, culture, oppression and righteous and relentless resistance.

It is out of the burdensome, beautiful and ever transcending march through human history that we are uniquely forged, find meaning, create space for freedom, beauty, creativity and other goodness we need. And it is in this history and culture Aretha is rooted and raised and then rises to unique heights of soulful excellence.

There are at least four fundamental traditions within Black culture that Aretha is rooted in and rises from: the Black music tradition; the Black church tradition; the Black activist-artist tradition; and the Black womanist tradition. Aretha as a singer and musician is rooted deeply in the musical tradition of her people, known world-wide for excellence in music. It is a versatile, deep and beautiful expression of the varied range of human thought, emotion, speech and practice. It is self-named by our people as soul music, not soul in the sense of the spirit form, but soul as a unique quality of personhood and peoplehood, expressive of a unique composite of sensitivity...

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