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Aretha Franklin’s voice was a pure, painful, and unforgettable expression of American history and American feeling, the collective experience of black Americans and her own life. The Queen of Soul was the daughter of the most influential black pastor in Detroit, a charismatic, often cruel man who filled the house with musical friends—Duke Ellington, Della Reese, Nat Cole, Mahalia Jackson—and a constant cloud of threat and fury. Aretha Franklin rarely spoke of her inner life, her crises—she was wary of almost everyone—and yet the sound she made, the emotions she expressed and embodied, were as distinctive as Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong and John Coltrane.
Prayer, love, desire, joy, despair, rapture, feminism, Black Power—it is hard to think of a performer who provided a deeper, more profound reflection of her times.