by Jeanine DeHoney
I remember as a child my father, who was an aspiring jazz musician, choosing a record that wasn’t his usual jazz line up to play on our French provincial stereo console record player while we did our Saturday morning chores. He played Aretha Franklin’s record, “Respect.”
“R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Find out what it means to me, R-E-S-P-E-C-T…”
After I did a halfhearted job of dusting the furniture, I got out of doing the remainder of my chores by settling on our sofa in our Livingroom. My plan was perfectly timed for when my father got ready to wax our floors. Once he started, pouring the liquid wax on the floor and rubbing small perimeters with one of his old t-shirts on his hands and knees, I knew I’d be stuck there for a while. But I didn’t mind. I was prepared to sit there with my notebook, a pen and my imagination until the floor dried to a shiny sheen and I could walk on it.
As the music filled our house I wrote and bobbed my head to Aretha’s powerful and soulful voice. Back then I didn’t know how much the lyrics to, “Respect,” would resonate with me as a little black girl living in Brooklyn who wanted to share her stories with the world.
That song from this icon of a woman fittingly crowned, the “Queen of Soul,” became my empowerment anthem, my battle hymn. It helped me remember that no matter what my skin color was, no matter what others thought about me, I counted and I deserved to be respected.
As an adult those affirmative feelings carried over into my stories. Whether fiction or nonfiction, I wanted the people I wrote about, especially women and women of color like myself, and minorities to show their courage and their strength at the end of their journey. I wanted them to impart a lesson to my readers through their dialogue or actions that they mattered and would no longer be marginalized, devalued or disrespected.
When I listened to Aretha Franklin sing, "Respect,” the words regard and reverence come to mind. This song and her activism as a Black woman who was revered worldwide and by all races, encourages me to live and write from a place that speaks to the injustices in the world. That song encourages me to speak up and speak out for all those who faced repercussions when they did or those who need courage to do it now I will be the vessel to tell their stories line by line, verse by verse.
Music, good music, the kind where the melody or lyrics roll off your tongue even when the song stops playing, the music Aretha Franklin sang, can fuel your creativity and shape your platform. Aretha Franklin’s music did that for me, one song in particular. I am forever grateful to her for that and more. May she rest in Queenly peace.
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