Aretha Franklin

The Queen of Soul wears a twilight blue dress, y’all, with a constellation of shimmer blazing across the middle, and drifts of sparkles draped around the top, trailing and drifting around the hemline.  The dress was so perfect that it exceeded all expectations of how cool Aretha’s dress could possibly be.  We had actually hoped for dresses, plural, but really: the one she picked was so great she didn’t need costume changes.

The Queen of Soul has a man in a suit who carries her giant everyday-style purse on stage, just a heartbeat before her arrival, and leans it underneath the piano against the leg on the far side.  What is in the purse, Aretha? It is so, so big that it can’t possibly contain touch-up lipstick, or a tic-tac, or a water bottle, or any small item one might need on stage.  This purse is so big that it would require quite a bit of unceremonious and unglamorous digging, should one need to find anything in a hurry.  This purse sat alone, forgotten except for the one thousand people watching it curiously, as it sat under the grand piano.  It was escorted off stage by the same man in a suit, a hearbeat after the encore was over.

The Queen of Soul is sassy, and also understated.  Other than the flawless dress and the sleek red hair, she doesn’t need a lot of flash, because she is All Substance.  Lordy, that woman can sing.  I knew that already.  That’s why this concert was on my Life List.

Aretha was escorted onto the stage and wasted no time. I was too giddy to remember the first number, but on the second she dove right into “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman,” and the crowd soaked it up.  Her next sentence was, “Well, do I have any Blues Brothers fans in the audience?” and I was all, “In fact you do, Aretha.  IN FACT YOU DO.”

I pulled it together for a number or two, and then lost all decorum during “Chain of Fools,” which is unequivocally my favorite Aretha song.  It’s also one of exactly three songs guaranteed to get me onto a dance floor no matter what the situation, and I have strict rules about only dancing in public when the music is so powerful that you have no other choice.  Even if you’re in a chair and you can’t stand up because of the rows of older women emphatically sitting down behind you,  so that you’d feel bad blocking their view.

Aretha had the crowd silent as statues when she scooched the pianist out of the way and sat down at the grand piano herself.  Aretha and I only disagreed once, when she did kind of an uncomfortable tribute to Whitney Houston. She said, “you can’t hear this song without thinking of Whitney, and I grumbled “that will always be Dolly’s song” as she launched into “I Will Always Love You.”  But we made up over the next one, a powerhouse of an Italian aria rendered in blues form on Aretha’s piano.  Hushed reverence from all.

It was so, so good; better, even, than I’d hoped.  She was everything I wanted her to be.  We talked in the car on the way home about everything she’s seen, and everyone she’s known; how she was the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; how she sang for Obama; how she made Motown Motown; how she and Janis Joplin would be almost exactly the same age today, had things turned out differently; what it must be like to look around and see things from her eyes.

We three were the youngest in the crowd by, oh, twenty or thirty years, which surprised me given how enduring and timeless Aretha is.  Someone called out to us, “It’s so nice to see girls your age at a show like this!” and we laughed, and some of us felt more flattered than others to be singled out as youngsters in any crowd as we posed for a photo beside Aretha’s limo.  We had already proved, though, with a pre-show dance party with three children under six, that her music translates pretty well no matter who is listening.

Aretha? She’s for everybody.


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