A Week On: KCL Radio’s Tribute to the Queen of Soul
I write this with Aretha’s voice streaming through my headphones – she sings The Letter; a smooth, bordering-on perfect outtake on her ‘Rare and Unreleased Recordings’ album. Everything Aretha did was so rich, as this piece exemplifies – which is either sadly or romantically something I am discovering more now she’s passed.
I’ve always loved her music; her songs rolling off my tongue when they played on the radio or a phrase in conversation sparked a lyric. Just the word respect is hers now, by default. But as I’ve learned more details about her life than I ever knew before (courtesy of the huge volume of news tributes and odes to her life), I finally realise how much more there was to her than the household songs she was most famous for.
She lived a turbulent life by my standards – one that riffs much pain and suffering. As you all probably know by now, she had been pregnant twice by the age of fifteen; was embroiled in several turbulent and abusive relationships over the course of her early life; and by the end of it all (as reports suggest) had become a hardened character to the travails of everyday life. But following this, my thought is that suffering is sadly one of the necessary conditions for the greats of history. For Aretha, all of her emotion poured out in performances; her songs; her voice. She did not need to express anything to us in person, because her wisdom and gift transcended to a deeper level than that.
As the great philosopher Emmanuel Kant acknowledged, an individual reaches their full height only through compulsions, responsibilities and suffering. And whether this is dealt to certain individuals by the laws of fate, or whether they take it on consciously, I believe it is also true that not all of us reach our full height because of our fear of these different elements of suffering and our inability to deal with them in an efficient and meaningful way. This is not to say some of us are above others; it’s a personal choice we all (at some stage in our life or another) make and should respect either way. But if there’s one thing we all know it’s that Aretha was someone who took on every aspect of tribulation that she seemed to follow her and used that to contribute to making her the most talented, expressive, angelic musician most of us will ever have the privilege of listening to.
The cornily apt lyrics Aretha breathes as The Letter comes to an end fade away into my ears… It’s time to say goodnight. And saying goodnight to Aretha in this life we may do, but something that brings me so much joy to say is that the world will never truly say goodnight to the Queen of Soul. Her voice will transcend the ages. A timeless masterpiece for us all to treasure for the rest of our days, till we meet again.