Aretha Franklin – The Voice of The Black Woman in Love
Legendary Soul singer Aretha Franklin died in the early morning of August 16, 2018 and the world is still mourning.
Nation wide candlelight and prayer visuals ensued during her brief illness and a six hour funeral was broadcast on live television for the famed crooner after her transition. It is obvious that Ms. Franklin means a lot to her fans and people around the world, but personally I think she means the most to black women.
As a black woman and a huge fan of her music, I can speak for the millions of women around the world who like myself were in deep and fervent prayer for the singer. To me Aretha Franklin’s voice is the physical embodiment of the black female struggle.
Franklin has lived a very private life, but of what we do know, her life has been filled with the ups and downs of love and heartbreak. Franklin’s first child was conceived before she was even a teen, she has been married twice, had a long time romantic partner, and is rumored to have endured physical abuse during one of those relationships.
Though most of us have not endured the extremes of heartache like Auntie Ree (as I affectionately call her), black women know the dirges of love’s valleys and peaks of it’s mountains.
The complexity of Black Love
To understand Ms. Franklin’s place in the black woman’s heart, you most understand black love. Black on black love is a little different from any love in this world. Not only are we a spiritual and emotional people, but more so than any other ethnic group, we live with the stain of not feeling good enough by the world’s standards.
In America, we constantly endure racism and bigotry on a level unparalleled to any other group of people. The media tells us we aren’t smart enough, pretty enough, and our skin isn’t light enough. After years of enduring all this undue hate, we started to believe it.
Maybe it was Jim Crow, Wille Lynch or maybe it was just the 300 years plus of slavery, but imbedded in our DNA is the nagging feeling of extreme imperfection. With this fact in mind, understand that black love is complex.
Black women struggle with how they are perceived in the world daily. We are told our lips, hips, and butts are too wide and our hair too coarse. We are oversexualized, fetishized, and disrespected; however, the black man’s struggle is worse.
The black man is told he is nothing at birth and reminded of that falsehood every time he opens the newspaper, turns on the tv or leaves his house.
Where Black Men Struggle With Love
Talk Show host, comedian, and author Steve Harvey noted in his debut book, Think Like a Man, Act Like a Lady that a man can only love a woman fully when he can commit to The 3 P’s- Provide, Protect, and Profess and this is where black love struggles.
Providing sometimes is hard for a black man, because of the various obstacles he faces. In the workplace he is belittled and in college he is not welcome. The stereotype is that if a black man can’t play ball or rap about his balls to the entertainment of the masses, he does not deserve wealth.
Protecting a black woman is also hard for a black man, because she is often the target of violence. If you don’t believe me Google Sandra Bland, Charleena Lyles, Korryn Gaines, or Sherell Bates.
Lastly, profession of love is another difficulty for the black man. Society is so harsh to him that most black boys are raised to not show sensitive emotions, as sensitivity could cost him his life.
Black men are conditioned by society to believe they are so vile only their mothers could love them. When you mix all those taxing emotions together you have created a man who is so unsure of himself that romantic love is not only hard, but it is a little unnerving.
The Conflicting Emotions of Black Men and Women in Love
Black women are natural nurturers and regardless of their problems. We only want to love and be loved. As a black woman surrounded by other black women, I can tell you that a black woman’s love is supernatural and unconditional. We love hard and long and purely. If we love you, and I mean truly love you, our love is lifting, motherly, passionate, fiery, sensually, and ethereal.
However, there is nothing more difficult in this world than trying to love someone who is not sure he is worthy of all you so desperately desire to give.
A black woman’s love is simply overwhelming to a black man sometimes. He questions why would a person want to give so much of herself to him as the world thinks nothing of him.
This internal conflict can make a man flighty and a woman insecure as she worries that his behavior is a result of her shortcomings. This is where Auntie Ree comes in.
Aretha Franklin’s Music and Black Love
Though Aretha didn’t write all of her songs and many of her hits are covers, she had the gift of interruption and the gift of musical and vocal arrangement like none other. She once stated in an interview that when she was presented with a song she tried to, “Feel it.”
I believe that vocally she pulled from her gospel background and her own experiences with love and heartache. Also she seemed to only choose to sing songs that felt meaningful and personal to her. Aretha had the unique ability to sing the black women’s heart.
I strongly believe in famed psychoanalyst Carl Jung’s idea of the human collective unconscious which is filled with shared instincts and archetypes and Aretha Franklin seemed to know how to tap into that resource for black women.
Her hit song “Ain’t No Way” is like the anthem of every black woman in love with a black man:
“Ain’t no way for me to love you if you won’t let me. It ain’t no way to give you all you need, if you won’t let me give all of me….. How can I give you all I can, if you’re tying both my hands?…. Stop trying to be someone you’re not. Hard, cold, and cruel is a man who paid too much for what he got. And If you need me, like you say, say that you do; then please, please, please, don’t you know I need you? Ain’t no way.
Aretha was not afraid to express the utter vulnerability of the group of women the world perceives as hard. In love, the black woman is just as fragile and soft as any other. Our collective need for pure love is just as strong and maybe stronger than our lighter skinned counterparts.
Songs like Angel where Franklin effortlessly confesses her sister Carol’s need for love is gut wrenching and real.
Who could forget Aretha’s cover of Carole King’s, Natural Woman where she is not ashamed to admit that the love of a man made her feel natural and alive.
Another topic that Aretha wasn’t afraid to delve into was sensual/sexuality.
Since slavery the black woman has been fetishized as overtly sexual which was an untruth created for the advantage of slave masters. Sensuality is a subject that many black female artist gleamed over in the 1950s-1980s as not to feed the stereotype, but a dauntless Ms. Franklin was not afraid to, “go there.”
In the her most well know hit Respect she boldly asked for her “propers” when she got home. In Daydreamin’, which she revealed in her autobiography was written about Dennis Edwards of The Temptations, she croons:
I want to be what he wants, when he wants, and whenever he needs It, and when he’s lonesome and feeling love starved I want to be the one that feeds it.
Need I explain more? Unsurprisingly, black women in love have those natural desires for intimacy and just thirteen years after Tan Magazine pondered if America could stomach its first black love scene between Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte in the movie Carmen Jones, Ms. Franklin was audaciously requesting her “propers.”
Aretha also had an amazing way with singing heartache. The Blues sounded no better than from her mouth.
Songs such as Drinking Again, Sweet Bitter Love, Until You Come Back To Me (my absolute favorite!), Today I Sing The Blues, and I’m Losing You takes you to the core of sorrow, the dirges of black love I spoke of earlier.
I don’t know A black woman who hasn’t turned Aretha on vinyl, CD or binary and let her voice cry those tears they could not. Let’s not forget she touched on themes of feminism in Respect and Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves.
Aretha was every woman in terms of the sheer array of music she offered as a balm for black love, but her true healing power was in gospel.
As people of color, the church is usually our center and Aretha was no different. She got her start singing gospel and infused gospel in everything that she did sonically.
In times of trouble, black women often turn to gospel and Ms. Franklin more than succeeded in that genre. I can rattle off many gospel favorites from her repertoire, but Wholy Holy is one for the ages.
There is no sorrow too large that her rendition of that song can not bless. I am more than sure that Aretha’s gospel renderings kept hope alive for many black marriages and relationships.
The Bottom Line
Auntie Ree understood black love and when she sang we all listened.
From feel good tracks to funeral marches Aretha reigned supreme.
Though she is no longer with us in flesh the spirit that shines though her music and our memories will never be extinguished.
I fondly remember a young break up where I played, Until You Come Back To Me until I literally scratched the CD ( I can laugh about it now).
Music will forever be a sage for our people, especially black women, in sorrow and sunshine and I am happy we were blessed to enjoy Ms. Franklin’s efforts in her lifetime.
We are forever in debt to her for being the voice and champion of Black Love even when the entire world was against us.