Aretha Franklin: The epitome of authenticity

Three years ago the great American singer Aretha Franklin, who died aged 76 yesterday, gave a performance at the Kennedy Center Honors 2015 that among many things brought a tear to the eye of the then president Barack Obama.

Aretha Franklin: The epitome of authenticity

Three years ago the great American singer Aretha Franklin, who died aged 76 yesterday, gave a performance at the Kennedy Center Honors 2015 that among many things brought a tear to the eye of the then president Barack Obama.

His tears were probably authentic. Only the deepest cynicism suggests that they may not have been. However, Franklin’s performance was the very epitome of authenticity.

That performance, already watched by 12,795,125 people on YouTube, was one of those that once encountered is never forgotten. It fulfilled every obligation of a piece of great, inspiring art.

Almost four decades earlier Franklin showed her great versatility in the 1980 film The Blues Brothers when, through a relatively minor part, she made a powerful impression.

She all but stole the show. Almost 12m people have seen that through YouTube.

However, those performances, and thousands of others, stand in the shadow of that wonderfully assertive anthem from 1967 — ‘Respect’ — 34,635,292 views on YouTube.

That Otis Redding classic may not, more than four decades later, satisfy the most demanding #MeToo strictures but in its day it was as transformative as that movement is today.

In a world where so much is fake, where so much is unreliable, artists like Franklin remain as anchors, as Rosetta Stones to what we really are and might be. We, and especially America, can ill afford the loss of such deep authenticity.

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