The 'Queen of Soul' was a daughter of the church


National Post, 16 August 2018

Aretha Franklin grew up in the black church, with its rich gospel music traditions. Her father was a pastor, and she ministered with her voice

DETROIT, MICHIGAN — Given Catholic liturgical praxis and my own worship tastes, it’s very rare that I get to, as is said in the proud tradition of black America, “have church.” But what is a summer road trip for if not to take a detour off one’s usual path?

So passing through Detroit on Tuesday morning, I stopped in to pray with the people of New Bethel Baptist, who were having church. I would call it a sunrise service, except that it began and ended before the sun was up. I was not the only visitor. There were news trucks outside and a larger than usual congregation. It was a special prayer vigil for Aretha Franklin, who was in hospice care at her home in Detroit and who passed away just this morning.

Aretha, 76, was born in Memphis to a preacher father and a musician mother. The family relocated to Detroit when she was five, and soon after her parents separated and her mother left town. Her father, C.L. Franklin, lived a life at times at odds with the Christian gospel, but he was a successful pastor at New Bethel Baptist for 30 years. Indeed, the street the church is on has been named after him.

Aretha grew up in the black church, with its rich gospel music traditions. Referred to in Detroit as the “Queen of Soul” as if it were her professional occupation, Aretha is a reminder that the soul of the African-American musical tradition is the spiritual, the music of the church. As a teenager she sang in her father’s church and, even after her rise to secular music stardom, maintained her links to the musical tradition that formed her. Her 1972 album, “Amazing Grace,” was the best-selling gospel album ever at the time.

So it was suitable that at her home church they sang and prayed for Aretha, even as she was in her final days. The soul was lifted up in supplication for a singer who so often lifted up the souls of others.

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