#eulogizingaretha: In the Belly of the Feast & the Favor… – The Feminist Wire

#eulogizingaretha: In the Belly of the Feast & the Favor…

By Esther A. Armah

I think the Ancestors call her ‘Queen Re Re’.

This voice. Unsaid words and sounds that erupted, sometimes emerged, soothing, or a rumbling and a soaring that stilled and slayed. It told the chapters of her life and ours: service, soaring, struggle, sacrifice, shame and being shamed.

My sister scribe and DJ scholar Lynnee Denise, would later write “Aretha’s voice was a motherland.” 

I sit in the Motherland, in Ghana, Africa’s first nation to gain independence from white colonialism, as I write these words.

Sun high, air sweet and hot on my skin, I listen to our Queen of Soul. This loss, legacy, and love language of vision wrapped in her voice transformed our radio stations into Aretha-fest; a musical, lyrical love letter, spanning decades in this nation I call home.  

Her homegoing. A story of soundtrack and speeches.

Black men – and one white – made speeches. Sermonizing, speechifying and eulogizing this homegoing in the belly of the feast and the favor. Just like favor ain’t fair; all feasts ain’t nutritious. Some carry maggots within movements that starve us. Some spoke too long, sang their own song; others reminded us why we love them.

To a lens unfamiliar with the multiple languages spoken in the voices of Black women; you may say, ‘the Black women sang and the Black men spoke’. You are mistaken. The Black women spoke. In tongues. And tales. They screamed. They wailed. They were wonder.

Black women singers conjured a soundtrack.

The soundtrack from that Detroit stage was a 21st century drum, a drum roll and a drum line. It was emotional justice. Fantasia, Jennifer Hudson, Chaka Khan, Yolanda Adams, The Clark Sisters, Pastor Shirley Caesar, and Cicely Tyson. They shape my homegoing remembering.

Shoes off, hats on, mic gripped, throats dripping in grief that greatness has stepped on home, handbag in hand, red heels, fur thrown over shoulders, and bare arms out.

That stage told a story, about Aretha, about so many of us; a queen whose soul navigated deep waters of revolution and resistance; of progressive politics and predatory men, of those who honored and held her, and those who harmed and humiliated her.

This soundtrack by single mamas, freedom riders, movement builders, sanctuary creators and bail carriers. Their service and sacrifice would still be wrapped in struggle and shame by a eulogizer at a pulpit lowering coffins down the throats of grieving Black women, weaponizing his mic, simultaneously asking Black women wailing and hurting and holding onto themselves while loving and leaving our Queen, to breathe better, to hold their breath because there was no man in their house, to breathe in a more meaningful, toxic, masculinist way; as others had done to Black women before him.

The global Black Church is a belly of feast and favor where we ingest and digest beauty and brilliance; truth and trauma. We stayed and prayed; styled and profiled; we mourned and marched; we built and we broke; we did harm and harm was done to us; we clapped and nodded hmmm, hmmm at our own shaming. Global Black women pour into swaying, unsteady pews. We occupy, abandon, transform, reform, pray, pass over and are passed over and passed around in this sanctuary that is shelter and struggle and story for us.

Recognize. Every. Sistah. Pours. (her) Experience. (of) Complexity. (into her) Testimony. R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

Queen Re Re. Rest. The Ancestors got you.

Esther A. Armah is a global, award winning International Journalist; a Radio Host, Playwright and Lecturer. She is the creator of ‘Emotional Justice’ – the work of her life. She is Director of EAA Media Productions and Host/Executive Producer of the global podcast ‘The Spin’. She has lived and worked in London, New York, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Nigeria, South Africa, Lesotho and Kenya. She currently lives in Accra, Ghana.