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

Sojourner Truth

Empowered by her religious faith, the former slave worked tirelessly for many years to transform national attitudes and institutions. According to Nell Painter, Princeton professor and Truth biographer, “No other woman who had gone through the ordeal of slavery managed to survive with sufficient strength, poise and self-confidence to become a public presence over the long term.”
(Painter, Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol, page 4)

In celebration of Black History Month, Notes to Women salutes Sojourner Truth, a devout Christian, abolitionist and Women’s Rights activist.  She was reputed to be the most famous African American woman in America in the 19th century.

For over forty years she traveled around the country, passionately and forcefully speaking for the abolition of slavery, women’s rights and suffrage, the rights of freedmen, temperance, prison reform and the termination of capital punishment.  She changed her name from Isabella to Sojourner Truth, a seeker after truth, becoming a traveling itinerant preacher so that she could tell the truth and crusade against injustice.  She was not intimidated by convention or authority.  She was known for her sense of humour which she used to squash self-righteousness.  She once derided some of the women social activists who wore frivolous clothing, saying to them, “What kind of reformers be you, with goose-wings on your heads, as if you were going to fly, and dressed in such ridiculous fashion, talking about reform and women’s rights?” (Narrative, Book of Life, p.243).

She made her most famous address, Ain’t I a Woman at a Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio where she asserted that women deserved equal rights with men because they were as equally as capable as men.  She testified, “I have plowed and reaped and husked and chopped and moved, and can any man do more than that?”  She concluded her speech saying, “And how came Jesus into the world?  Through God who created Him and the woman who bore Him.  Man, where was your part?” (Anti-Slavery Bugle, June, 1851).

Watch this video of this remarkable woman.

We celebrate the “world’s oldest lecturer” who, as a woman of faith could not keep silent when those created in God’s image were denied their human rights and equality.  Her memory lives on in the many local memorials and tributes established in her honor in Battle Creek.  In 1997, a year long celebration marked the 200th anniversary of Sojourner’s birth.  One day was not enough to celebrate this special lady.  She has left behind a legacy survival, strength, courage and the passion to transform attitudes and and institutions.  She inspires us to speak out against injustice, inequality and oppression and to stand up for truth and to act instead of talk.

If women want any rights more than they’s got, why don’t they just take them, and not be talking about it.

Truth is powerful and it prevails.

Religion without humanity is very poor human stuff.

“Does not God love colored children as well as white children? And did not the same Savior die to save the one as well as the other?” (Sabbath School Convention, Battle Creek, June 1863)

Sources: YouTube;  Sojourner Truth; Brainy Quotes

 

 

 

 

Living in Slums

I told them that even if their situation seems like a mountain, God is mightier than the problem – Nitya

Can you imagine being so poor that you live in a shack made of cardboard and plastic?  What if you had to struggle daily just to survive?  Imagine sharing a shanty with ten other families because you and your family can’t afford your own space?  This is the reality for people in India who dwell in slums.

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In India, slums are growing rapidly.  Millions are living in extreme poverty and everyday is a struggle for survival.  They are trapped in a world filled with desperation and hopelessness.  Open sewage, polluted water, lack of healthcare, illiteracy, superstition and diseases such as tuberculosis and AIDs are some of the problems they face.  It is a constant battle for them to find or keep a job.  No job meant that they would have to beg, scavenge or turn to prostitution.  It’s worst for them if they were too sick or too old to work because there was no social agency to help them to survive.  This is why many of them turned to alcohol for solace.  When the men drowned their sorrows and fears in alcohol, their wives and children were left to fend for themselves.  One woman who was a tailor had to work outside because there was not enough room in her tiny hut.

People should not be living like this.  And this is why God had to intervene.  He did so through a man named Nitya.  Nitya had a dream about a shack by the sewer.  And he moved into one!  How many of us would leave our nice, comfy, clean homes and families to live in a slum among complete strangers?  Nitya had no reservations.  Why?  He knew that God had called him to serve in the slums.  Sometimes the harvest is in places that we normally wouldn’t imagine ourselves going but when God calls us to go, we go.  Nitya made his home among the slum dwellers and through his actions, demonstrated God’s love and acceptance.

In Nitya’s eyes, these people were God’s children.  God called him and is calling others to share the Good News of Jesus with people who are hurting and are shunned by society.

Watch this video of Nitya–a real life hero who has a true servant’s heart.

God transformed the lives of the people in the slum. Darkness gave way to light and despair turned into hope.  When Nitya found out that children were unable to go to school because their parents could afford to send them, he started a Bridge of Hope centre.  At the centre, children learn about Jesus, receive quality education, medical care and daily meals.

Nitya also began holding worship services.   At first the attendance was low due to lack of interest but now more than 40 people attend.  At each service Nitya teaches them from the Bible and prays for them.  Thankful for the hope they have found in Jesus, believers take part in Communion to remember the great sacrifice He made for them.

One couple’s lives changed dramatically, thanks to the church.  Achal and Malika used to follow their traditional gods and Achal beat Malika but one day she slipped into a coma.  Nitya, his wife and other believers prayed for her and she was healed.  When Achal and Malika saw the Lord’s power, they gave their hearts to Christ.  Today they are among His faithful followers.

How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?  And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written:

“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!” – Romans 10:14, 15

The Goa slum is home to the illegal prostitution trade.  Life seemed hopeless for the people there until a Gospel for Asia missionary team began to visit the area, bringing hope in the form of Gospel literature.

 As I went through the photo gallery of Team Ministers of Slum Area, tears came to my eyes.  It drove home the fact that there are people out there who will gladly accept the Good News if only there were people to share it with them.  These photos touched my heart.

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“Most of the people they meet are open to the Gospel message. Almost immediately they become engrossed in reading the literature.”

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“After he told them the Good News, many raised their hands, indicated that they wanted to follow Jesus. John is the pastor of a GFA-supported church in this area of Goa. He is overjoyed to see so many from the slum become part of the Body of Christ.”

Find out more about Gospel for Asia’s Slum Ministry and see how the work they began in 1999 is still impacting the masses of “desperate people who have no means whatsoever to better their situation or escape their surroundings.”  Share Nitya’s story and take a look at the photos.  Pray for the slum dwellers and the missionaries of the Slum Ministry.  Ask God how you can help.

Source:  Gospel for Asia