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By Candace Laughinghouse
Unbreakable, unrestricted, understood by black women everywhere.
A eulogy is a spoken “good word,” traditionally given at the final celebration of one who has transitioned from this side of heaven, with expectation of reconnecting with family and friends at some time in the cosmic future. Aretha Louise Franklin (1942-2017) not only deserves a proper eulogy, she is worthy of a reflective eulogy that embraces her authenticity and ability to overcome challenges that could have easily ended her career. Yet, she leaves us a champion and Queen of Soul.
I did not know Aretha Louise Franklin personally, but her life projected the vernacular of a womanist by identifying with the everyday lay people and everyday life. Her songs spoke about troubled relationships that demanded R.E.S.P.E.C.T, admitted to daydreaming about that lover unable to wring from our mind’s grasp, and presented Spirit-filled gospel inflections that continue to lift us from states of despair every time we hear her voice.
As a musician in the black church and daughter of a preacher, Aretha lived a life heavily affected by patriarchy. But even patriarchy could not restrict her from exploring her true self as a woman completely made in the image of God. Knowing this, she demanded respect for herself and other women activists. You see, every time a woman sings “Freedom! Freedom! Freedom! Oh, Freedom” or “Think about what you’re trying to do to me!” we are quoting a creed to our rightful place of protesting any system and any person that tries or tried to manipulate and control us into thinking we are less than the beautiful spirit-filled beings created in God’s image.
Aretha’s music was womanist in the many ways that she gave fully of herself as an artist and social justice advocate for the sake of the entire black community. As a single black woman and mother, she linked all of our concerns – e.g. finding the means to feed our families, providing shelter, dealing with damaged relationships, the effects of stress upon our bodies, death and the contemplation of the transcendental. Yes, despite the failed relationships and history of contact with men seeking to control her being, gift and career, Ms. Franklin remained authentic, honest, and confident in every performance and interview.
Though her body is no longer with us, her transition from this world still remains communitarian as we come together to not only honor her body of work but look a little closer into the ways in which Aretha overcame so that we might be inspired to continue the deconstruction of racism, sexism, and patriarchy. It is then that we will be able to experience the harmonization and freedom that extends God’s love to all of Creation.
Candace Laughinghouse is a doctoral student at Chicago Theological Seminary working on a construction of an anti-speciesist ecowomanism. Prior to CTS, she received a ThM from Duke Divinity and MDiv from Candler School of Theology. Her goal is to find a balance between family (her love for three beautiful daughters) and her ministerial calling within the church and academy.