Aretha Franklin’s Transcendent Voice Frequently Lent To Activism
Aretha Franklin’s mark on the world was undeniable. Her voice showed power and restraint and was used in more ways than one to uplift the disenfranchised.
Franklin was aligned with the understanding that her gift made her accessible and gave her unlimited access. She used her position to advocate for the voiceless many times throughout her career.
Born to Barbara and Dr. C.L. Franklin, a Baptist preacher who organized the largest civil-rights demonstration in 1963 until Dr. King’s 1963 March on Washington took the slot in history books. Activism was not just a word, but was embedded in her blood.
Everyone knows Aretha for her female empowerment anthem “Respect,” but Franklin’s work made the plight of the modern woman clear over the airwaves. If you listen to songs like “Do Right Woman,” “Think,” “Natural Woman,” and “I Never Loved A Man,” you will hear a woman who demanded that her body, soul and heart be revered by her lover. A sacred action that was radical at that time.
Franklin was also the first woman to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Everywhere her voice touched broke a barrier of some sort.
Gifted & Black
Franklin frequently showed her love for her culture in her fashion choices and style. She wore head wraps and rocked and afro, a very direct nod to the civil rights era induced embrace of owning her ancestral beauty. Singers like her and Nina Simone visually reminded young Black people everywhere that it was necessary and beautiful to embrace their layered heritage.
Martin Luther King
Franklin was heavily involved in the civil rights movement, which meant she was a close friend and confidant of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Franklin frequently donated to King’s efforts, while also helping to raise funds. She lent her voice and time as much as she could along with other activist-entertainers including Harry Belafonte, Sammy Davis Jr., Nancy Wilson and Sidney Poitier.
Here she is singing “Precious Lord” at King’s funeral service in 1968.
Franklin vowed to pay the activist’s bail in 1970 when she was arrested and charged with murder.
“Angela Davis must go free,” Franklin said to Jet Magazine in 1970. “Black people will be free. I’ve been locked up (for disturbing the peace in Detroit) and I know you got to disturb the peace when you can’t get no peace. Jail is hell to be in. I’m going to see her free if there is any justice in our courts, not because I believe in communism, but because she’s a Black woman and she wants freedom for Black people.
Franklin reportedly vowed to pay whatever the price whether it was $100,000 or $250,000, at the time.
No one can forget Franklin’s legendary performance at Barack Obama’s 2009 Inauguration, the nation’s first Black president. It was truly the first of many Black moments that we relished in during Obama’s tenure at the White House.
“I was delighted and thrilled to be there,” she said. “That was the most important thing, not so much the performance, but just to be there and to see this great man go into office—the promise of tomorrow coming to pass,” she said in a later interview about her performance.