The Queen of Soul

“When God loves you, what can be better than that?” ~ Aretha Franklin

There is so much I could write about Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul but I decided to concentrate on the highlights of her music career and her “social and civic contributions”.

Aretha Louise Franklin was  born on March 25, 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee.  Her father, Clarence LaVaughn “C. L.” Franklin was a Baptist minister and a circuit preacher while her mother, Barbara was an accomplished piano player and vocalist.  Theirs was a troubled marriage because of her father’s philandering.  The couple separated in 1948.  Before her tenth birthday, Aretha’s mother died from a heart attack.  Several women, including her grandmother and Mahalia Jackson alternated helping the children at the Franklin home and it was during this time that Aretha learned to play the piano by ear.

Following her mother’s death, Aretha began singing solos at New Bethel, debuting with the hymn, “Jesus, Be a Fence Around Me.”  When she was twelve, her father became her manager, bringing her on the road with him during his “gospel caravan” tours for her to perform in various churches.

Her music career found Aretha signing on with big recording giants such as Columbia, Atlantic, Arista and RCA.  She belted out many hits such as You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman, I Say A Little Prayer, Hold On, I’m Comin’.  And she thrilled the younger generation with Who’s Zoomin’ Who and Freeway of Love.  Hearing Freeway of Love transported me back to the ’80s which were a great time for me when I was living in New York.  And who could forget I Knew You Were Waiting For Me, her number one duet with George Michael?

In 1980, she gave a command performance before the Queen at Prince Albert’s Hall, in 2009 she sang at the 2009 inauguration of President Barak Obama.  In the following year, she received an honorary degree from Yale University.  In 2014, she received honorary degrees from Harvard University and New York University as well as honorary doctorates in music from Princeton, Yale, Brown, Pennsylvania, Berkeley, New England Conservatory of Music and University of Michigan.  She was the recipient of other honors such as Doctor of Humane Letters and Doctor of Law degree.

Aretha was dubbed “one of the giants of soul music, and indeed of American pop as a whole.  More than any other performer, she epitomized soul at its most gospel-charged.”  Her voice was described as being a “powerful mezzo-soprano voice” and she was praised for her arrangements and interpretations of other artists’ hit songs.  At the age of 14 when she recorded her first album, Songs of Faith, Jerry Wexler declared that her voice “was not that of a child but rather of an ecstatic hierophant.”  A hierophant is a person who brings religious congregants into the presence of that which is deemed holy.  Aretha’s explanation for that would have likely been, “Being a singer is a natural gift. It means I’m using to the highest degree possible the gift that God gave me to use. I’m happy with that.”

Singing and music weren’t her only passions.  Aretha was a civil rights activist.  Throughout her life, she was involved in the struggle for civil rights and women’s rights.  When Angela Davis was jailed in 1970, Aretha told Jet Magazine that, “Angela Davis must go free… Black people will be free. I’ve been locked up (for disturbing the peace in Detroit) and I know you got to disturb the peace when you can’t get no peace. Jail is hell to be in. I’m going to see her free if there is any justice in our courts, not because I believe in communism, but because she’s a Black woman and she wants freedom for Black people.”  Not surprisingly, her songs “Respect” and “Natural Woman” became anthems of these movements for social change.  She was also a staunch supporter of Native American rights, supporting their struggles worldwide and movements which fostered their cultural rights.

“We all require and want respect, man or woman, black or white. It’s our basic human right” ~ Aretha Franklin

It was a sad day when it was announced that the great Aretha Franklin passed away after losing her battle with pancreatic cancer.  She leaves behind a world touched by her music, her incomparable voice and her effortless work in championing human, civil and women’s rights.  She was the first woman to be inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005.  In 2013, she was again ranked first in Rolling Stone magazine’s “100 Greatest Singers” list.

“American history wells up when Aretha sings.  Nobody embodies more fully the connection between the African-American spiritual, the blues, R&B, rock and roll—the way that hardship and sorrow were transformed into something full of beauty and vitality and hope” – President Obama in response to her performance of “A Natural Woman” at the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors.

Notes to Women salutes the woman with “the voice of the civil rights movement, the voice of black America” and a “symbol of black equality”  She was an inspiration not only for those in the music world but for all of us.  Although she is no longer with us, her music, her legacy will live on.

“It really is an honor if I can be inspirational to a younger singer or person. It means I’ve done my job” ~ Aretha Franklin

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Sources:  Wikipedia; Brainy Quote

Press for Progress

Today is International Women’s Day and this year’s theme is Press for Progress.  The event is celebrated every year on March 8 to commemorates the movement for women’s rights.

This morning I learned a very interesting fact which was that the earliest Women’s Day observance, called “National Woman’s Day,” was held on February 28, 1909 in New York.  It was organized by the Socialist Party of America at the suggestion of Theresa Malkiel.  An American labor activist, suffragist, and educator, Theresa was a woman of progress, as she made history as the first woman to rise from factory work to leadership in the Socialist party.  She was a Jewish woman and refugee who fled anti-Semitic violence in Russia.  Eighteen years later, she founded Women’s Day, the forerunner of International Women’s Day.  Read more about her story here.

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The woman behind International Women’s Day

Why is International Women’s Day celebrated on March 8?  After women gained suffrage in Soviet Russia in 1917, March 8 became a national holiday there. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949 the State Council proclaimed on December 23 that March 8 would be made an official holiday with women in China given a half-day off.  The United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day in the International Women’s Year, 1975.  Two years later, in 1977, the United Nations General Assembly invited member states to proclaim March 8 as the UN Day for women’s rights and world peace.

What is the purpose for IWD?  According to an article in the Mirror, the aim was for women to have equal pay.  It’s still an issue so the day is still being held every year.

Women earn 14% less than men in the UK. Last year the #MeToo campaign also grew in momentum, after women started to speak out about sexual harassment.

The women who spoke out are known as The Silence Breakers and they were named Time’s Person of the Year.

International Women’s Day is an official holiday in many countries including Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China (for women only), Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Madagascar (for women only), Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nepal (for women only), Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zambia.

Originally the colors used for International Women’s Day were purple for symbolizing women, green for hope and white for purity.  White is no longer used because of purity being a controversial concept.  Yellow was introduced symbolizing a “new dawn”.  So, now green is for traditional feminism and purple with yellow represent contemporary feminism.

Today, women were on center stage and the world watched as they protested and celebrated.  And in Canada, a family, Canadians and people of color celebrated as the ten dollar bill featuring Viola Desmond, the first black woman was unveiled today.

Viola Desmond was a Canadian black woman from the province of Nova Scotia who challenged racial segregation at a movie theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia in 1946 when she refused to leave a whites only area and was convicted of a minor tax violation for the one cent tax difference between the seat she paid for and the seat she used.  Her case is one of the most publicized incidents of racial discrimination in Canadian history and helped start the modern civil rights movement in Canada.  She has been compared to Rosa Parks as both women, uncompromising in their stance against racism gave rise to the Civil Rights Movement.

Progress has been made in the fight for women’s rights but we still have a long way to go.  In the mean time, let’s women around the world continue to raise their voices in order to be heard and to “bring attention to the most critical issues facing our communities, and our world at large” (Rep. Jeannie McDaniel).

Sources:  Wikipedia; Broadly; International Women’s Day; Wikipedia

The Oscars Highlights

As usual, after promising myself that I wouldn’t watch it, I ended up watching the Oscars Red Carpet show and the last hour and a half of the Oscars.  I enjoyed the show more in the past.  Nowadays, it seems anything goes.  I didn’t appreciate Sean Penn’s remark when Birdman won for the Best Picture and I am thankful that I missed Neil Patrick Harris in his underwear.  I wonder if he will be invited back next year.  I think Billy Crystal was by far the best host.

The highlights were seeing Tara Kyle, the widow of Chris Kyle, author of the autobiography The American Sniper, Oscar nominee for best pictureChris was killed at a shooting range in Texas in February 2013.  Tara was at the 87th Academy Awards ceremony to represent him.  She is a an American author, veteran family activist and advocate for women and families who have lost family members while serving in the war.  She travels around the country speaking about Chris and others like him.  In August 2013, the state of Texas passed the Chris Kyle Law (SB162) which was created to “expand the effort to help ease employment challenges for active duty military members and their spouses”

Tara founded Chris Kyle Frog Foundation.  A frog’s skeleton is a symbol of a fallen Navy Seal.  The foundation’s mission is is to “serve those who serve us by providing meaningful interactive experiences that enrich family relationships”.

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The other highlight was Julianne Moore.  I haven’t seen the movie, Still Alice, but the clip they showed of the movie when the announcement for Actress in a leading role, convinced me that she deserved the honor.  The scene was short but very powerful.  It was of a woman desperately looking for her keys and refusing to take her husband’s advice to wait until the morning.  It’s as if she could feel herself slipping away and was struggling to hold on.  It’s a movie on a disease that affects everyone–those diagnosed with it and their loved ones.  Alice described it as her brain dying.

“Alice: I miss myself.
John: I miss you too, Ali, so much.”
Lisa Genova, Still Alice

“In the ladies’ room, Alice studied her image in the mirror. The reflected older woman’s face didn’t quite match the picture that she had of herself in her mind’s eye.” p 35”
Lisa Genova, Still Alice

Women are more likely to get Alzheimer’s partly because they live longer than men.  Genetics are also a factor.  In the movie, Still Alice, Alice looked young, not the typical person you would expect to have Alzheimer’s.  It is no longer a disease of old age.  In fact, many people with early onset are in their 40s and 50s. They have families, careers or are even caregivers themselves when the disease strikes.

In her acceptance speech, Julianne said, “I’m so happy, I’m thrilled that we were able to shine a light on Alzheimer’s disease,” Moore said. “So many people who have this disease feel marginalized. People who have Alzheimer’s disease deserve to be seen so we can find a cure.”  She poured her heart into this role.  She spent four months researching for her role, talking to women with the disease, doctors and visiting a long-term care facility.  This was well earned Oscar win.  Congratulations, Julianne for bringing to life and light a disease that affects so many.  Thank you for raising awareness and helping those who live with the disease not to feel like they are alone.

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Initially, when I heard that Lady Gaga was going to sing a medley from The Sound of Music, I was very skeptical.  I didn’t think she had it in her but I was pleasantly surprised.  I found myself wondering why the medley and then, Dame Julie Andrews steps out on the stage to the delight and surprise of the audience.  You could see that Lady Gaga was a bit emotional. With her usual gracefulness, Dame Julie said, “Dear Lady Gaga, thank you for that wonderful tribute.”

Seeing Dame Julie Andrews step out on the stage was the biggest highlight of the night for me.  She looked terrific as usual.  She was there to hand out the Oscar for the Best Original Score and also in honor of the movie, The Sound of Music which celebrates its 50th anniversary.  It will always be one of my favorite musicals.

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I was thrilled when the song, “Glory” won for Best Original Song.  It was a moving tribute to the civil rights’ movement.   The cast and some in the audience were in tears.  Congratulations to Common and John Legend for their much deserved win.

In his acceptance speech, John Legend said, “We wrote this song for a film that was based on events that were 50 years ago, but we say that Selma is now because the struggle for justice is right now.  We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850. When people are marching with our song, we want to tell you, ‘We are with you. We see you. We love you. And march on.'”

Congratulations to Patricia Arquette and Eddie Redmayne.  It was touching the way he dedicated his Best Actor Oscar to “all of those people around the world” battling motor neurone disease – the illness that left Professor Hawking in a wheelchair.  Redmayne thanked the Hawking family and his wife, Hannah, telling her,  “I love you so much. We’ve got a new fella coming to share our apartment!” His acceptance speech was refreshing and sweet at the same time.

Notes to Women wish to congratulate all the Academy Award winners for 2015.

Sources:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taya_Kyle;

http://www.alzinfo.org/articles/why-women-may-be-more-likely-to-get-alzheimers/; http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_early_onset.asp;

http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/wireStory/julianne-moore-wins-oscar-best-actress-29153141

http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/news/glory-wins-best-original-song-at-oscars-brings-cast-to-tears-20150222

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/oscars/11428940/Oscars-2015-Watch-Eddie-Redmaynes-adorable-Best-Actor-acceptance-speech.html

http://www.mirror.co.uk/3am/celebrity-news/stephen-hawking-praises-eddie-redmaynes-5213165