In the Oxford Complete Wordfinder, a queen is defined as: 1. A female sovereign, the hereditary ruler of an independent nation; 2. A king’s wife; 3. A woman, country, or thing preeminent or supreme in a specified area or of its kind.
Since You’ve Been Gone
Aretha Louise Franklin (March 25, 1942 – August 16, 2018), known worldwide as the Queen of Soul, ascended to her throne in the 1960s. She did not inherit that title, nor did she marry a king. Aretha Franklin, vocalist, navigated her parents’ divorce, endured her mother’s death, learned piano by ear, and relied on talented mentors. As in any life, personal heartache befell. Singing from the time she was twelve, Aretha survived the jarring highs and lows of a 61-year recording career with at least five record labels. Becoming a Queen is no fairy tale. Aretha earned her crown.
Chain of Fools
If being a queen carries such distinguished and superlative standing, I wonder that little girls don’t aspire to queen rather than princess. The answer: Disney, of course. Beginning in 1937, with the release of the animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, young viewers had access to fantasy. Next, Disney created Cinderella in 1950, followed by Sleeping Beauty in 1959. It’s very likely I viewed those features, but I grew up before the Disney influence mushroomed. Role-playing sleuth Nancy Drew, who drove a roadster and searched for clues in crumbling walls, had more allure to me than a ball gown. I admit that in 1981 I got caught up in the royal wedding of Diana and Charles. It wasn’t long before I learned, along with the rest of the world, that being a princess isn’t all that perfect.
The era of VHS tapes allowed children to view animated movies in their homes. Disney capitalized. Starting in 1989 and into the present a Disney princess movie has been released every year or two. Likely, the mythology of princesses (eleven now) infiltrated the conscious and subconscious minds of those young viewers. What a shock for them to discover real life requires sacrifice and humility, often life without a prince, and no guarantee of a happy ending.
Early in the 2000s a commercial franchise released Disney princess dolls, sing-along videos, apparel, home decor, and toys. My granddaughters have many of those products. To Britt’s consternation, I sometimes confuse Belle with Jasmine, or Anna with Elsa. Britt recently informed me that Sleeping Beauty has a name, Aurora. Granted, some of the more recent animated princesses have admirable goals. And perhaps the latest films come with fewer stereotypes. Yet, I’m not a fan. Don’t we become what we imitate? I’m encouraged when the grand girls dress themselves as superheroes.
Disney princesses possess tiny waists, flowing hair, and lovely gowns. I’m not sure how they earn a living, obtain healthcare, or manage the stresses of daily life without a signature song. Real-life princesses require ability and integrity. When the first difficult challenge comes along, a real royal will need to adapt. What if the frog does not turn into a prince? Those trials might just separate the princesses from the queens.
In 1980 Aretha Franklin gave a command performance at the Prince Albert Hall in London for Queen Elizabeth. Now there’s a regal duo who could offer wisdom and advice on perseverance. Queen Elizabeth’s metamorphosis into the figurehead and heart of Great Britain came with plenty of trial and tribulation. She did not marry a King, either, but inherited her role from her father in 1953. A reigning queen 65 years.
A Natural Woman
When I heard Aretha Franklin would soon pass, I located the CD I have, Aretha’s Best, and inserted it into my car’s player. I absorbed her soulful voice and Motown rhythm for the next three days, the time that my granddaughters would be staying with me. I wanted them to experience her familiar hits, the songs that comprised the medley soundtrack of my life. Rayna picked up on the lyrics right away. We three joined in the chorus of Natural Woman as we waited in line at customs.
I don’t need to recount Aretha Franklin’s impact on me, because you know it as well. In our small town we were quite insulated against the 60s revolution. Yet, I felt the biases against minorities and the limitations to women’s choices. Aretha’s first hit single, Respect, gave a powerful voice to inequality. In her autobiography, Aretha wrote, “It was the need of a nation, the need of the average man and woman in the street, the business man, the mother, the fireman, the teacher-everyone wanted respect.”
Aretha emerged preeminent and supreme, a queen commanding respect with her incredible voice. That tops princess any day.