My Thank-You song for Aretha

Thank you for all the special people, the geniuses that you created in all spheres and unleashed on the world, stars now gone but whose impact we can still feel.

Mike Awoyinfa

Now one of my longest friends has gone home. I didn’t know that it would be this soon that I would have to say farewell to you…I know you are up there celebrating with your family.

READ ALSO: Aretha Franklin (1942-2018)

This is my song for you, my thank-you song wherever you may be. The world has lost a queen, the queen of songs, the ‘Queen of Soul,’ the queen of everything you surveyed, the queen whose music was the anthem of my youth, my secondary school days in Ghana, when we smooched and danced to Rock Steady, Think, Spanish Harlem, Don’t Play That Song For Me and other soulful Gospel-inspired spiritual songs from your angelic voice, you Queen Aretha Franklin, the diva now gone with your swansong.

The world has lost a queen but heaven has gained an angel who will join the heavenly choir to be singing: “Holy, Holy, Holy” to you the Almighty Father of creation whom I have come to thank this morning. Thank you for all the special people, the geniuses that you created in all spheres and unleashed on the world, stars now gone but whose impact we can still feel. Thank you for Steve Jobs who ate the forbidden Apple from the tree of knowledge, whose small but powerful invention, the iPhone, enables me to listen to any music I want in this world today at the click of the button.

Thank you for Martin Luther King who had a dream of an equal and just world devoid of racism, Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and Nazi killers. Thank you for Nelson Mandela who went to jail to free his people to create a rainbow nation. Thank you for Mohammed Ali, the greatest boxer ever. Thank you for Michael Jackson, the King of pop. Thank you for Miles Davies, my favourite jazz trumpeter. Thank you for Fela, the pride of Nigeria loved by the French President Emmanuel Macron. Thank you for Bob Marley, the reggae king even in the grave.

Thank you for Aretha Franklin, the inimitable Aretha. Thank you for Maya Angelou, my favourite African-American poet. On the day Aretha was buried, I tweeted: Wondering and imagining what poem, what poetic tribute Maya Angelou would have written for Aretha Franklin. She would have penned a dirge. A soul-stirring lamentation for the Queen of Soul.

READ ALSO: 5 ways Aretha Franklin made history

Thank you God for the inventor of Twitter, for the inventor of Facebook, for the inventor of Google, YouTube and the social media in general that have changed the way we live. Thank you for all the disrupters and all the positive disruptions in our world today. Thank you for the more innovations and changes yet to come. Thank you for the wisdom and talent you have given man to excel and to have dominion over the world.

I wanted to watch the burial of Aretha Franklin in full, but on my street where electricity is alternated one day on, one day off, today is the day off, the day we don’t have electricity, so I have to be economical in my use of generator. Ours is a country still steeped in the Dark Ages of rationed electricity. I was lucky to watch the stars Aretha Franklin would have loved to see at her funeral, the very people she would have loved to hear sing atop her 24-karat gold-plated Promethean casket made of solid bronze. At the funeral, I heard someone saying Aretha was a queen who earned her title, not that she was born with a royal blood. I heard a voice saying Aretha “was part of the movement that set this nation free and she made one song in particular and it became one of the anthems for another movement that made women more equal.” I

heard Aretha being praised as not just “once in a lifetime voice” but a singer whose “gift is almost otherworldly.” Indeed, there has never been and there would never be another voice like that of Aretha Franklin.

I heard Michael Eric Dyson, a sociology professor at Georgetown University pouring hot charcoal on President Trump’s head for saying that Aretha Franklin worked for him in a tweet about her death: “You lugubrious leech. You dopey doppelganger of deceit and deviance. You lethal liar. You dimwitted dictator. You foolish fascist. She ain’t work for you. She worked above you. She worked beyond you. Get your preposition right. Don’t you sully the memory of our great queen. Aretha Franklin was an original. Never one like her before never another like her after.”

I saw Chaka Khan bringing back soulful memories of the past as she performed “Going up Yonder” and calling Aretha Franklin “my mentor, my true friend” in a tweet.

President Clinton came on stage and dazzled everyone as usual with his gift of the gab and this epitaph: “She lived with courage. Not without fear, but overcoming her fears. She lived with faith. Not without weakness, but overcoming her weakness. I just loved her.” He surprised everyone by bringing out his iPhone and playing out Aretha’s “Think” into the microphone.

I heard Jennifer Hudson singing Amazing Grace with the amazing gravitas of Aretha Franklin. But she is no Aretha Franklin. No one can be like Aretha Franklin. Smokey Robinson, the falsetto-voiced Motown star of yesteryear also came on stage, sang and said these sad words: “Now one of my longest friends has gone home. I didn’t know that it would be this soon that I would have to say farewell to you…I know you are up there celebrating with your family.” Then came Stevie Wonder, the blind King of Soul with his harmonica doing what he does best. He sang a track “As” from his Songs in the Key of Life album, saying to Aretha: “I’ll be loving you always.” It was indeed a funeral fit for a queen.

READ ALSO: Aretha Franklin bishop apologises to Ariana Grande

At the end of it all, I wanted to write a poem. I wanted to imagine what Maya Angelou would have written for Aretha Franklin, just as she wrote for President Bill Clinton (On the Pulse of Morning) and read on his inauguration as President of America, just as she wrote for Nelson Mandela (His Day is Done), but I don’t have that anointing. So today, I have to go back to Maya Angelou’s poem Vigil, a tribute to Luther Vandross and Barry White which might as well be a tribute to the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin:

We are born in pain, then relief comes.

We are lost in the dark, then day breaks.

We are confused, confounded, and fearful,

Then faith takes our hand.
We stumble and fumble and fall, Then, we rise.

Into each of our meanest nights, you have arrived,

Oh, Lord, Creator,

To lead us away from our ignorance

And into knowing.

Now we gather at your altar, Rich and poor, young and Achingly old,
We are the housed and the homeless,
We are the lucky. And the lazy.

As if at the foot
Of an ancient baobab tree,
In this moment
We gather to stand, kneel, sit, squat, and crumple here,

Knowing that, when the medical geniuses
Have done their best,
When the Nobel Prize Winners Have used their most powerful energy,
We have You.

Creator,
We bring to You
Our brother, sons, fathers, uncles,
Nephews, cousins, beloved and friends.

We place the body of Luther Vandross

And the body of Barry White Here before You
They are among the best we have
And You are all we have

Heal, we pray Heal, we pray Heal us all. We pray.