The Queen of Soul
I was raised in Lafayette, Louisiana, Cajun Country and center of the oil industry at that time. I knew what discrimination was. I knew I had to use certain water fountains if I was thirsty and others had to use their's. I knew of the existence of the Klan first hand and could tell you true stories of such that you probably would find hard to believe. But, some way, some how a seed was planted in me about the injustice of it all in an Atticus Finch sort of way. Part of that seed was planted and nourished by my Mom. This is about my Mom teaching me to love music, all music. Music does not discriminate.
My mom was an opera singer before she had eight kids, singing with the New Orleans Opera Company as a contralto in the chorus. She had a syndicated radio program on opera each week that went all over the South. She had a glorious voice. She sang solos in the choir at the massive St. John's Cathedral in Lafayette, booming her voice unaided from the balcony on the second floor with me in my finest Sunday gloves, dress and hat by her side. At home it was all music all the time. We eight kids had a childhood with background music around the clock. It was La Boheme, La Traviata, Carmen, Madame Butterfly but also Flower Drum Song, Oklahoma, Chet Atkins on his steel guitar and Gospel Music. My mom taught me to love Gospel music, really love it. On Sundays we would watch a tent revival live program on TV, just she and I. It was a special time that none of the other members of the brood shared with her. It was all about the music for us. That is where I learned to love and appreciate Mahalia Jackson. My mom would teach me why and how Mahalia was truly the greatest voice to ever grace God's earth and I agree to this day. But Ms. Mahalia up there in heaven has a very very close runner up.
It was only to be expected that in my teens the arrival on the music scene of Aretha Franklin filled a void that I hadn't heard in years. I could hear those gospel rhythms in her voice and loved every sound. I became a huge fan and over the years an even bigger one.
I happened to be on vacation and visiting my sister and family in Washington DC when Bill Clinton's inauguration took place. Sis wanted me to experience an inauguration. She had been to Bush's and said it was really something. Well after twelve years of Republicans, Clinton's was a way bigger something. There were performers in tent after tent performing live and for free, fabulous jazz, great food, and on and on, a huge celebration like I had never seen. I did not know they did this and wow, they did it in a big way! But what I really was waiting for was the arrival of Aretha. I huddled with my sister out in the weather watching her kids and enjoying the scene right where she was rumored to arrive. Suddenly a shiny black stretch limo sidled up to the curb. It had to be her. I couldn't even get close. The story of my life---five feet tall kept me from seeing over the heads of others and what was going on. Exiting from another limo and rushing on ahead were numerous HUGE gentlemen in pink tee shirts that surely were former NFL linebackers. They were pushing the crowd back to make way for the Queen. I figured out if I ducked down to the ground I could see more between peoples legs and I was able to get pretty close up to these guys. Another bevy of pink shirted giants came around the side of the first limo to the door, opened it and another stretched out his hand. A fuzzy flurry of mink peeked from the car and it moved forward with it's wearer stepping out with the aid of her security. She stood up. She was perfectly coiffed, made up and gorgeous. Lord, she had gorgeous skin. She wore a full length mink coat which, on cue, after sizing up the crowd. she WHIPPED open as if to say "I am here." I will never forget it. All of the pink shirts pulled in closer to her and all my five feet followed right behind them with my little Kodak camera. Right when Ms. Franklin came by me, I was so short and they were so big and tall that I was able to slip right between them and get a picture of her beautiful face, up close and personal. Those pink shirts never saw little ole me coming. I immediately backed out and ran away in fear of those pink shirted guys. Somewhere in my still untouched piles of moving bric a brac is that photo in a tiny album of my DC trip some years back. I have pulled it out often over the years and it is one of my most treasured items.
Aretha Franklin is one of the greatest voices of our time. Her gift has the ability to move one from joy to tears whether it be R&B or Gospel. I will leave you with my favorite song of hers, although there are so many. This one never fails to make me sob. It is Never Grow Old ...May she rest in peace...Bunny