Muse Reporting on the popular and fine arts

Such a time as this

Entertainment | The prophetic voice of Aretha Franklin
by Lynde Langdon
Posted 8/17/18, 04:38 pm

From 1967 to 1972, Aretha Franklin was on fire. She had released her first album, a gospel collection, in 1956 at age 14 and gained popularity as a jazz and blues singer. But it wasn’t until she moved to Atlantic records in ’67 and recorded Otis Redding’s “Respect” that her career burst into full flame, fanned by the winds of the feminist and civil rights movements.

“Aretha’s career, becalmed for so long, was suddenly rocket-powered, as if America had been waiting for someone just like her,” music critic Dorian Lynskey wrote for The Guardian. Franklin released 11 albums in six years and had the same number of No. 1 hits on the U.S. rhythm and blues charts. During that timespan she unleashed almost all of her iconic hits, including “Respect” (see video clip below), “Think,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” “Rock Steady,” and “Chain of Fools.”

Franklin rarely took political or social stances in her music and played her personal views close to her chest—though she did sing the national anthem at the 1968 Democratic National Convention and took part in President Barack Obama’s first inaugural in 2009. Back in ’68, Franklin sang “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” at Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral. She didn’t have to talk about the societal problems of the day because she had lived them, and her music gave voice to those experiences.

She bore her first son when she was 12 and had her second son two years later. Her father, C.L. Franklin, was a civil rights leader and the flamboyant pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit. Her mother, Barbara, left home when Aretha was 7 and died three years later. Young Aretha learned to sing in church. While still a teen, she toured with her father and King.

With songs like “Respect,” “Think,” and “Chain of Fools,” Franklin demanded to be seen and heard, not as an icon but as a woman with feelings, desires, faith, and hope. As Memphis sanitation workers and other civil rights protesters declared, “I am a man,” Franklin sang of her own inherent worth and dignity, and by extension that of all women, in “Think”: “I ain’t no psychiatrist, I ain’t no doctor with degrees / It don’t take too much high IQs / To see what you’re doing to me.”

At the same time, Franklin sought communion with, not dominion over, her oppressors. Also in “Think,” she sang, “You need me and I need you / Without each other there ain’t nothing neither can do,” and in songs like “Rock Steady” and “Spirit in the Dark” she sang of sexuality as a dance between equals.

Always strong but never bitter, she spoke of her faith in God throughout her life and acknowledged where her power came from. In a 2015 interview, Gwen Ifill of PBS asked Franklin about crossing over from gospel to pop and she answered, “I didn’t cross the line. Gospel goes with me wherever I go. Gospel is a constant with me.”

Associated Press/Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision Associated Press/Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision Ruby Rose

All the fuss

At first glance, the controversy over the CW’s forthcoming series Batwoman seemed like the LGBT movement trying to destroy one of its own for being “not gay enough.” The network cast actress Ruby Rose as the lead character, whom DC Comics has portrayed as a lesbian since rebooting her storyline in 2006. Rose is also a lesbian but identifies as “gender fluid,” too.

Outlets such as Glamour and The Hollywood Reporter, along with various blogs, described the fallout this way: Critics said Rose doesn’t count as a lesbian because sometimes she identifies as a male (huh?). Those critics bullied Rose and the CW using the hashtag #RecastBatwoman, and Rose got so upset she quit Twitter (but not the show). That storyline led to a backlash against the backlash, in which #RecastBatwoman tweeters were called, to put it nicely, ridiculous.

But in sifting through about fives days’ worth of #RecastBatwoman tweets, most of the complaints I saw made these arguments:

  • Rose is not a very good actress, and the CW should have picked someone better to portray a character that has a large LGBT fanbase.
  • The role ought to be played by a Jew since the character is Jewish, which Rose is not.
  • Rose has had a run of high-profile roles as lesbian characters, and the CW should have given a lesser-known actress a chance.

Before Rose deleted her Twitter account, she posted a message saying she wished women and LGBT advocates were more supportive of each other. (Hey, we could all do with a little more kindness.) Since Rose’s Twitter history is gone, we can’t see any messages that were tweeted directly to her, which could have been much more aggressive. All things considered, it looks like the Batwoman firestorm is not an example of sexual revolution cannibalism (which still happens). Instead, it is an unfortunate side effect of interactive marketing and hyperfandom.

When Tim Burton cast Michael Keaton as Batman in the late 1980s, plenty of fans raised their eyebrows. But they didn’t have social media or home internet by which to launch a coordinated campaign of personal attacks. Mass merchandising for superhero and action movies was mostly directed at children—now it’s found in just about every department of big box retailers, from apparel to kitchenware. Fans think they should have a say in every aspect of production, from casting to which scenes make the trailer to which cities a movie premieres in. It makes you long for the days when if a movie or TV show sounded good, you watched it, and if it didn’t, then you found something better to do. —L.L

Bets on

This week, the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City, N.J., became the sixth casino in the Garden State to offer sports betting, just in time for the start of the NFL season. New Jersey casinos and racetracks took in $40.6 million in sports bets in the first full month in which it was permitted, according to figures released Tuesday. Since the U.S. Supreme Court decided in May to allow sports betting, it has become legal in Delaware, Mississippi, Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and West Virginia, and numerous other states are working toward legalizing it. The American Gaming Association estimates that $150 billion is spent per year on illegal sports betting in the United States. —L.L.

Lynde Langdon

Lynde is a WORLD Digital’s managing editor and reports on popular and fine arts. She lives in Wichita, Kan., with her husband and two daughters. Follow Lynde on Twitter @lmlangdon.

Read more from this writer