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Our Editorial: For Aretha, nothing but R-E-S-P-E-C-T

The Detroit News

To the world, Aretha Franklin was the Queen of Soul. For Detroiters, she was also our voice.

Franklin, who died Thursday at age 76, was among the greatest singers of her generation. And the music that carried her to fame was pure Detroit, nurtured in its churches and polished in its concert halls.

Robert Farnette of Detroit photographs a tribute to Aretha Franklin at the Fox Theatre on Thursday in Detroit.

Franklin came out of Northwestern High School, the daughter of famed preacher and civil rights champion the Rev. C.L. Franklin. She found her first audience in her father’s church, New Bethel Baptist on the city’s west side.

Her songs were empowering, especially for women. The messages in Respect, Think and Do Right Woman encouraged women to stand up for themselves, to demand more. She lived her music, presenting herself as a strong woman in control of her own life and business. 

Aretha walked onto a stage with just that amazing voice; she didn’t need the pyrotechnics and bevy of dancers that are ubiquitous with today’s divas. It was music that aimed to move both the feet and the soul. And it will endure. 

While she never recorded for the Motown label, she become emblematic of the Motor City sound, which captivated the music world beginning in the 1960s and launched scores of performers, most of them African Americans, to stardom.

Aretha, though, was extra special. She stayed home, continuing to live in Detroit long after her peers departed for brighter, more glamorous places.

And she supported her hometown. Just this spring, The Detroit News honored her with a Michiganian of the Year Lifetime Achievement award, not just for her music and ambassadorship on behalf of the city, but for her generosity toward her fellow Detroiters.

Over the years, she quietly supported the city’s churches and charities, sharing her fortune with the city that gave Franklin her start.

Much of her philanthropy centered on New Bethel, where she staged annual benefit concerts and hosted Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts. She also supported women’s shelters, food banks and children’s services, as well as a number of other charitable efforts. Franklin was honored by the Grammys in 2008 as its MusiCares Person of the Year.

Franklin was a woman of talent, faith and heart. She belonged to Detroit, and the hearts of the city belonged to her.

Detroit will forever ring with the music of Aretha Franklin.