Since the news of Aretha Franklin passing on to Glory, I’ve been listening to a lot of her music. I don’t know what it is about musicians passing away that immediately gets me to listen to their records nonstop, like it’s the last time I’ll ever hear it again. I know it sounds selfish, but it’s probably because I’ll never get a chance to hear that artist’s musical gifts again on a new joint. So, listening to a captured version of that person’s gifts from the past makes me cherish the time I had experiencing their gift.
The album that has been in rotation the most is Aretha’s Live at Fillmore West—this album, along with the songs “Just For A Thrill,” “God Bless the Child,” and “A Deeper Love”—all bodies of work that prove that Aretha Franklin can saaang anything. Pop, jazz, house. These songs prove that anything can turn into a gospeldelic, spirit-filled tent revival once Aretha hops on the track. That’s what makes soul music. That queen energy. And a queen is more than willing to shine the spotlight from her thrown on others she deems worthy of them.
Aretha Franklin’s most famous songs were not originally written or performed by her (“Respect,” “I Say A Little Pray For You”). Covering an artist’s song within a two-year span of its original release would be considered blasphemous in this day and age and maybe in her day and age too. Either she was extremely bold or was in complete, pure admiration of those songs. Whatever reason, she mastered it.
The same could be said about her collaborations. There was the original “Boy Is Mine” battle between her and Whitney. There was the sweet 80s pop collaboration with George Michael. She even sung with Trey Songz. (Almost as puzzling as that Patti Labelle and Lloyd collaboration.) But Sister Retha always excelled when she played sage Auntie. (The Lauryn Hill produced “A Rose Is Still A Rose” and Fantasia’s “Put You Up on Game.”) But there’s one artist that Auntie Re has collaborated with on record more than once. There’s one song that’s personifies, “girl that mother***er ain’t shit” in four minutes and twelve seconds. It’s her collaboration with Mary J. Blige on “Don’t Waste Your Time.”
Picking up the Mary CD, looking at the back of it, seeing a feature with Aretha Franklin produced by Babyface, you would think that this song would be a saccharine inspirational number in the vein of Whitney and Cece’s “Count on Me.” But you know when the strings struck, that this was gonna be some DRAMA. The two ladies traded bars like, “Don’t waste your time,” “But it gets so hard to know,” and “Shouldn’t take his s*** no more.” (Tyler Perry couldn’t even write this s***.) Before the song ends, Auntie Retha kicks into overdrive and rebukes Niece Mary for even contemplating continuing her reality-show relationship, “You ain’t gon’ be my friend no more…” And this what makes Aretha a true Queen. A capital q Queen. Queen with sage advice and a sharp rebuke. But most of all, she was a Queen willing to share it.