By: Camellia Graham

When I think of Aretha Franklin, I envision an extraordinary vocalist in a class by herself. A phenomenal musical stylist, exceptional gifting and the know-how to use it to the nth degree. Her music made me want to do stuff: the gospel made me want to praise the Lord, rock ‘n roll made me want to dance and love songs made me want to love somebody — anybody!

While her version of Respect motivated me to T-C-B as it did millions of others, a comment she once made caused me to reflect on my stewardship in life. She said, “Being a singer is a natural gift. It means I’m using to the highest degree possible the gift that God gave me to use. I’m happy with that.” Can we honestly say we’re using our God-given gifts to the highest degree possible?  I know I can’t!

For Aretha, life ain’t been no crystal stair! She endured challenges of a difficult childhood, losing her Mother around 10, and becoming a Mother to two boys by age 15. Life hurts and can seem unfair at times.  It may be she chose to channel her pain into the soulful sounds that set her apart as the legendary Queen of Soul. Nevertheless, I’m mighty grateful that she chose to let the music out!  Music that empowered feminists and encouraged Civil Rights Movements. Music that’s colored and shaped our history, enabling us to forget some things and embrace others. Why? Because Aretha chose to use the gift that God gave her to the highest degree possible. She chose to climb higher mountains — now she’s home!