At the tender age of six I first heard Aretha Franklin’s music and was immediately captivated by her voice. I had no idea what soul music was, but I knew that this music and voice was different. I had an instant response that somehow through her voice, she affected me – it felt electric. Maybe it was the anthem quality, gospel chorus, powerful octaves and musical clarity. It moved me, made me tingle and I’ll never forget the moment.
As a nation we mourn the loss of her immense talent – so few musicians have touched so many generations. She was part of a revolution in American music that brought a profound black female vocalist center stage like Billie Holiday and Etta James had done before her. Aretha had a gift that she shared and used well. She was a voice in the midst of social change and she understood its impact. Music was a key transformational factor that helped cross the racial divide in the era of civil rights. Growing up listening to R&B and soul music helped America understand the black experience and it clarified the difference, the struggle, and pain of black Americans. Aretha’s music taught us, energized us, and healed us. It also made us dance!
The art created by a man or woman is often larger than themselves. In Aretha’s case her music will live on and continue to be a powerful artistic message and her life will be an example not only for African American’s but for us all as a source of inspiration.
The remarkable is rare. I’m personally grateful that at a young age I was exposed to the music of Aretha Louis Franklin and like so many American’s, participated in her life’s accomplishments through her glorious voice. She touched a nation in the same way she moved a six-year-old boy in Warwick – right down to the soul.
The above column, written by Village of Warwick Mayor Michael Newhard, has been published in the August 22 issue of the Warwick Valley Dispatch.