Aretha Franklin’s RESPECT for Lucy Maud’s beloved book

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Acclaimed singer Aretha Franklin, who died two years ago today, once told an interviewer that she felt an affinity for the courageous orphan of Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne Shirley. (Élana Camille for CBC)

On the second anniversary of Aretha Franklin’s death, a Halifax soul queen researcher explores the singer’s passion for Anne of Green Gables and her unfulfilled desire to visit Prince Island -Edouard.

In a barely imaginable scene at the birth of Aretha Louise Franklin, the Royal Band of Welsh Guards honored her life by performing “Respect” – her signature song – outside Buckingham Palace the morning she was interred. . At 76, Franklin died of pancreatic cancer two years ago today.

I later met a longtime fan of the singer who hadn’t seen any footage from the band – resplendent in red tunics and bearskin hats – groove to the tune that Rolling Stone magazine put on. ranked among the greatest of all time.

“Amazing,” the woman said, looking at the moving tribute on my cell phone. “A salute from the Queen of England to the Queen of the Soul. I know Aretha loved it. “

The restitution made Franklin a legend

“Respect” was a modest success for Otis Redding who first recorded it in 1965. But it was the catchy version of Franklin in 1967 with his RESPECT spelling lesson and quick licks (sung by her sisters Carolyn and Erma) which topped the charts and emerged as an anthem for civil rights and feminist movements. Of the outing that secured Franklin’s title as Soul Queen, Redding reportedly lamented, “That girl stole my song. ”

In a career that spanned six decades, Franklin also put his soul imprint on tunes from artists such as The Beatles (“Eleanor Rigby”) and Stephen Stills (“Love The One You’re With”).

She made global headlines after a Grammy appearance in 1998 in which she stepped in for a sick Luciano Pavarotti and sang “Nessun Dorma,” an opera aria by Puccini. At the final note, the audience jumped to their feet. “She anointed him,” one watcher told me, referring to Franklin’s gospel roots as the daughter of a prominent Baptist minister in Detroit.

When it comes to Afrocentric culture, elegant headgear has long been celebrated in the historic Black Church. Marveled at the gray pillbox (with a dramatic crystal-embellished bow) Franklin wore when he opened in 2009, former US President Barack Obama plans to display the hat in his presidential library. “I think that’s exactly where it should be,” noted Luke Song, designer of the now iconic helmet. “She loved Obama. “

I can do like Anne

The singer’s admiration for the country’s first African-American president was not unexpected. But Franklin surprised many when, in a nod to black worship traditions, she blurted out with a “worship break” for a novel by Lucy Maud Montgomery, from Prince Island. Edward. ” I love Anne of the Green Gables, “She said to a Toronto Star journalist, in 2014. “I’ve had it for years. ”

The Soul Queen continued, “It’s one of my favorite things. She is such a talented girl, that’s why I’m crazy about her. And this Gilbert Blythe? He’s a charmer. And Marilla, a woman who just knows how she wants things to be. Oh yeah, I think I can appreciate it too. I just think I’d like to see where they all came from. ”

Realizing that Franklin was deemed reluctant to talk about his private life, I was struck by the poignant nature of his self-proclaimed love for the red-haired, freckled protagonist of Montgomery’s classic 1908 novel. invited by the then premier, Robert Ghiz, the singer never visited Prince Edward Island where she would surely have reveled in the myriad of the province. Anne of the Green Gables attractions. Imagine the first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame during a performance of Anne of Green Gables – The Musical. Alas, that never happened.

Therefore, as a speaker at the 2018 LM Montgomery Institute conference held every two years at UPEI, I explored the “harmonious connection” between this unlikely pair. I risked Franklin seeing orphan Anne Shirley a reflection of herself as a daughter whose mother – dismayed by marital troubles – left the family when the future singer was six and passed away. several years later.

“She was a traumatized child,” noted a former Franklin staffer. “Seeing Aretha in her father’s church… her eyes were filled with sadness. Then when she got up to sing, that sound came out.… Beautifully mature.

Franklin countered his punishments with an unwavering self-confidence bolstered by his fierce talent. Like the fictional Anne Shirley (who filled her desire for puffed sleeves), the soul queen cultivated a “can-do” attitude that, despite setbacks, propelled her to international stardom. Indeed, shortly before replacing Pavarotti, a baffled Franklin is said to have told the (anguished) producer of the Grammy show: “This is going to be fun. ”

Fast forward and, in 2010, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) named asteroid 249516 Aretha to celebrate the singer’s remarkable achievements. He continues to travel in space.

Desire to connect

I remain intrigued by Franklin’s affection for Anne of the Green Gables – a book little read by African-American women of her generation.

An expert on fictional characters, audience and identity provided insight into the novel’s appeal to the singer. “Celebrities are people,” Bradley Bond, professor of communications at the University of San Diego, told me in an email exchange. “And people have an instinctive desire to connect with others.… If a celebrity feels a connection with a fictional character [she], will have the same desire to know their past and to live their experiences. ”

After my conference speech, I later attended a reception. There, beer in hand, Blair MacDonald introduced himself to me as the great-grandson of Lucy Maud Montgomery.

Noting that his buddies had often dazzled him about his red-haired “cousin”, MacDonald, now 43, confessed that he posted a post on social media about my lecture as I spoke. again.

I was so excited to learn that Aretha Franklin loved my great-grandmother’s book.– Blair MacDonald to author Evelyn C. White

“I was so excited to learn that Aretha Franklin loved my great-grandmother’s book that I couldn’t help myself,” he apologized. “It’s definitely one of the coolest things to ever happen to me. ”

Since Franklin’s death, I have also been in contact with his niece, Sabrina Owens.

“She was a voracious reader,” Owens says of his famous aunt. “We were talking about books all the time. I know she was reading biographies of Princess Diana, Jacqueline Kennedy, Barack and Michelle Obama. She liked books about people in important positions or who led interesting lives.

“I never heard Aunt Aretha talk about it, but I’m not surprised that she read Anne of the Green Gables.«

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