The great Aretha Franklin has died, but the powerful, soul-stirring effect that her singing has on us will live on for all time.
I believe Aretha’s singing thrills us so deeply because, at her best, she puts together opposites that we are hoping to make sense of in our lives. What I’m saying is based on this principle of Aesthetic Realism, stated by its founder, Eli Siegel: “All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.”
When, for example, we hear one of Aretha’s high-energy rockers (such as Chain of Fools, Since You’ve Been Gone, or Respect) or some of her more meditative pieces (like I Say a Little Prayer or Natural Woman), we hear a beautiful togetherness of power and grace, straight-line simplicity and tremendous richness of meaning, a single self and the wide universe. And we want this: We want to feel powerful and graceful at once; to feel that our most intimate feelings are connected with the unlimited world.
In Aretha’s best singing, there seems to be no separation between her own feeling and the sound that meets our ears. She reaches us from the depth of her very self. She tells the truth in sound.
I believe we love her singing because it has us feel maybe we can break out of our own self-containment and get to a large, passionate feeling about something or someone, and through doing so, feel more truly ourselves.
God bless you, Aretha Franklin. And thank you for the beautiful honesty you bring to the art of song.
Learn more: AestheticRealism.org