At the 1998 Grammy Awards, opera superstar Luciano Pavarotti unexpectedly dropped out of his scheduled performance of the classic aria “Nessun dorma” minutes into the beginning of the awards ceremony. There was one person who Grammy director Ken Ehrlich had confidence in to take Pavarotti’s place with two hours of notice: The Queen of Soul.
Aretha Franklin proceeded to nonchalantly deliver one of her most breathtaking performances ever, but that’s just who she was.
By most accounts, Aretha Franklin was fondly seen as the quintessential diva, a cherished artist whose personality could match her era-defining music. By having over 100 singles bombard the Billboard charts throughout her 60+ years of vocal brilliance, the first woman ever to do so, Franklin’s voice divinely comforted millions of people exploring life’s most profound experiences.
With her bold voice, she became a superstar, being named the number one vocalist of all time twice by Rolling Stones. But it was how she used her voice that made her a generational role model. Her music embodies the spirit of the civil rights movement, having inspired those who fought, and still fight, for equality. She consistently gave dazzling performances at civil rights events without payment.
With Franklin’s unfortunate passing, we lose a performer who translated the feelings of the American public, not only into music, but into award-winning, soulful art. Barack Obama put it best in his tribute to Franklin over Twitter, saying “Aretha helped define the American experience. In her voice, we could feel our history, all of it and in every shade…” She leaves a giant, irreplaceable handprint on the whole of the human experience. May she rest in peace.