As many of you know, I adore Aretha Franklin. Having had the opportunity to get to know her on stage and off, I have many reasons to admire and respect her professionally as well as personally.

A phenomenal album she recorded years ago, the now classic Amazing Grace, sums up much of Aretha's timeless allure.

She is an amazing act, blessed by God in an extraordinary way.

Time after time, from song to song, she is "the one and only Aretha Franklin" -- as she was introduced on a VH-1 cable TV tribute a few weeks ago.

In Dorothy Winbush Riley 's book, Black Women in the Image of God, a well-selected quote from Aretha gives insight into one of our most celebrated women.

"I had a real kinship with God, and that's what has helped me pull out of the problems I've faced," Franklin stated. "Anybody who has kept up with my career knows that I've had my share of problems and trouble, but look at me today. No matter how much success I achieved, I never lost my faith in God."

Aretha's most recent triumph is her acclaimed VH-1 Diva Salute, a benefit for the VH-1 Save the Music Foundation, which has raised millions of dollars for music education and enrichment.

Brown-skinned lovelies Janet Jackson , Jill Scott and Mary J. Blige and milky maidens Pamela Anderson , Angie Harmon and Renee Zellweger were mere ladies-in-waiting, humbled before the Queen of Soul's majestic magnetism.

For a deeper knowledge of what makes Aretha one of the true greats, you really have to look beyond her pop superstardom.

These moments during the VH-1 show are worth noting: Her perfect Spanish pronunciation when introducing Cuban salsa queen Celia Cruz ; telling the audience to really listen and pay attention to an ensemble of jazz greats, such as pianist Herbie Hancock , trumpeter Clark Terry and saxophonist James Carter ; bringing new life to Puccini 's soulful opera, Nessun Dorma; rock 'n rollin' with Kid Rock and with her very talented son, Teddy Richards ; and above all, paying heartfelt homage to the incomparable Clara Ward and making sure the audience acknowledged the still-very-much-alive Ward Singers, Frances Steadman and Kitty Parham .
Aretha's sincerity and exploration of the full gamut of diverse musical tastes must be applauded. In her autobiography, From These Roots, our greatest soul singer respectfully acknowledges cabaret pianist and singer Blossom Dearie , jazz vocalist Andy Bey and England's superb songstress, Dame Shirley Bassey .

She has spotlighted every musical form, from the folk music of India and Africa to chamber music and spirituals.

As a matter of fact, due to Aretha's tribute to the Clara Ward Singers (edited out of what aired on television), I immediately went out and purchased the CD, Clara Ward and the Clara Ward Singers -- Somebody Greater Than You and I. Aretha was the catalyst for me to do what I should have done a long time ago. Again, her influence is sublime.

On another personal note, I was highly flattered that right before Aretha sang Pink Cadillac, she acknowledged that my mother (pianist- singer Jo Thompson ) and I were in the audience -- bringing me lots of e-mails and calls from all over!

And when the show was over, after more than two hours of Aretha defining and redefining the often-misused term diva, she invited me to join her at one of Manhattan's toniest Chinese restaurants, Shun Lee.

Before dining on a feast with Aretha at an intimate gathering of family and friends, I passed Dionne Warwick leaving the theater, Radio City Music Hall. When I said she should soon be "Divatized" by VH-1, Warwick replied: "Never, I can't sing opera!"

Oh well, I thought, that is something Aretha -- who can sing anything -- would not have said.
Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus