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'The Voice Of A Century': Michael Eric Dyson Looks Back On Aretha Franklin's Life

Aretha Franklin performs at the Festival of Families as Pope Francis looks on in September 2015 in Philadelphia,
Carl Court
/
Getty Images
Aretha Franklin performs at the Festival of Families as Pope Francis looks on in September 2015 in Philadelphia,

The world is mourning the loss of Aretha Franklin. The Queen of Soul died August 16 at the age of 76 from pancreatic cancer. Though her influence was felt throughout music, a critical part of her legacy lies in gospel, where she got her start. Author Michael Eric Dyson, who knew Franklin for 15 years and wrote an op-ed in The New York Times titled "The Church of Aretha Franklin," notes that Franklin had the "voice of a century."

"There have been many popes. Ain't but one Aretha Franklin," Dyson says, remembering the day that he saw the icon perform for the pontiff in Philadelphia back in 2015.

As Dyson tells it, Franklin had the voice to work within any genre, adding, "It embodied the emotional intensity that was gathered in a woman whose body bore the marks of her emotional suffering, but the joys and highs of black existence, the struggles, the protest, the resistance, the celebrations."

Dyson says that when Franklin first started to move away from the gospel world to make secular music, she was met with resistance. But while Sam Cooke and Ray Charles made the jump before her, "When Aretha's vocals got unleashed, they believed that God was everywhere."

Aside from music, Dyson knew Franklin as a well-read, curious person. He says she would call him up all the time with questions about politics, archaeology and more. She also knew how to tell a good joke.

"She had a tremendous sense of humor," Dyson says, recalling a time she told him about a humorous visit Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made to her house as a child. "Aretha Franklin gave me that gift of knowing him intimately, vicariously."

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Noel King is a host of Morning Edition and Up First.
Ana Lucia Murillo