I vividly remember Spring 1967 when Aretha Franklin’s song, RESPECT was released. I was 13 years old and soon to graduate from eighth grade. In our house, my sister and I took turns cleaning up the kitchen. One Saturday, it was my turn. Contemplating the work ahead of me, washing dishes, cleaning out the refrigerator, and mopping the floor, I tuned into my favorite radio station – WVON. Legendary disc jockey, Herb Kent, always spun the latest and most popular hits on Saturday. When I turned on the radio, he announced that he had received so many requests for Aretha’s new hit – RESPECT – that he was going to play it, and he did, thirteen times in a row. By the time the last spin had been spun, I was just about done with my kitchen chores and knew the lyrics by heart.
That memory came to mind this past week as the funeral services for Aretha Franklin and John McCain were announced. While I don’t know if they ever met in person, I do know that both of them in their own way garnered the respect of millions of people. They came from vastly different backgrounds, endured difficult life challenges, but their contributions to American life underscore similar values. Both of them gave so much to their country, putting the needs of others above their own. At the end of their lives, race/ethnicity and fame didn’t define them – their characters did.
Many people I know disagreed with some of John McCain’s politics, but all of them respected him. Despite his privilege, in his self-deprecating manner, he aspired to the highest of human ideals, values most parents strive to instill in their children.
Aretha Franklin is beloved for her kindness, generosity and musical talent, which allowed her to connect to the ‘soul’ of America. Apparently, she even connected to the English as Queen Elizabeth’s honor guard paid tribute to America’s Queen of Soul by playing a rendition of RESPECT timed to coincide with her funeral.
The impact both of these individuals had on America from the latter half of the 20th century through today can in part be measured by the outpouring of grief from across the country, and the number of people who watched their funeral services, mourning their deaths.
Every generation has its heroes, people we honor and remember for their contributions. They serve as role models for subsequent generations, the embodiment of the hopes and dreams we have for a better future. Legendary musician and vocalist, Aretha Franklin, and patriot, war hero, and statesman, John McCain demonstrated that no matter where you begin in life, and the hardships you endure, your actions will ultimately define your legacy. Little wonder that the two of them will be fondly and long remembered with appreciation and respect.