ATLANTA — Rep. John Lewis and Dr. Bernice King both praised 'Queen of Soul' Aretha Franklin for her role as a beacon of the African American civil rights movement.
Franklin, who died Thursday at 76, was a close confidante of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and a financial lifeline to the civil rights organization he co-founded, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, according to the Associated Press.
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Rep, John Lewis wrote, in part:
“When she sang, she embodied what we were fighting for, and her music strengthened us. It revived us. When we would be released from jail after a non-violent protest, we might go to a late night club and let the music of Aretha Franklin fill our hearts."
Dr. Bernice King said Franklin had long been a supporter of the King family and even intended to sing at her mother, Coretta Scott King's funeral, but didn't make it because of weather. Dr. King wrote that Franklin was active in the efforts to establish a formal King Holiday.
Dr. King wrote:
"As a daughter of the movement, she not only used her voice to entertain but to uplift and inspire generations through songs that have become anthems such as "Respect" and "Bridge over Troubled Water."
Read their full statements below:
Rep. John Lewis:
“We have lost one of the great artists of our time. Aretha Franklin was so talented. She was one of God’s precious gifts to the world—one of God’s shining jewels. She is deeply loved by hundreds, thousands, and millions of people as the Queen of Soul. Her skill as a composer, arranger, pianist, and vocalist made her an icon, and her interpretations of gospel and soul music came to define a new category of artistry called rhythm and blues. Her voice is still a guiding light to vocalists today who hope to breathe the same kind of vibrant truth into lyrics and melody that Aretha brought to her music.
“What made her talent so great was her capacity to live what she sang. Her music was deepened by her connection to the struggles and the triumphs of the African American experience growing up in her father’s church, the community of Detroit, and her awareness of the turmoil of the South. She had a lifelong, unwavering commitment to civil rights and was one of the strongest supporters of the movement. She was our sister and our friend. Whenever I would see her, from time to time, she would always inquire about the well-being of people she met and worked with during the sixties.
“When she sang, she embodied what we were fighting for, and her music strengthened us. It revived us. When we would be released from jail after a non-violent protest, we might go to a late night club and let the music of Aretha Franklin fill our hearts. She was like a muse whose songs whispered the strength to continue on. Her music gave us a greater sense of determination to never give up or give in, and to keep the faith.
“She was a wonderful, talented human being. We mourn for Aretha Franklin. We have lost the Queen of Soul.”
Dr. Bernice King:
"We have lost another legend from the civil rights era. From the time she was a teenager, Ms. Franklin has been singing freedom songs in support of my father and others in the struggle for civil rights. As a daughter of the movement, she not only used her voice to entertain but to uplift and inspire generations through songs that have become anthems such as “Respect” and “Bridge over Troubled Water.” After my father’s assassination, her relationship with my mother continued and grew stronger. She was one of the many artists that joined my mother in her unwavering efforts to establish the King Holiday. When my mother passed in 2006, she tried desperately to get to Atlanta for her service but was hindered by the winter weather in Detroit. As talented as she was as a singer and songwriter, Ms. Franklin’s legacy extends far beyond that of a dynamic singer and entertainer. She was a shining example of how to utilize the arts and entertainment to support and promote nonviolent social change. On behalf of The King Center family, I extend my deepest sympathy to the Franklin family. Ms. Franklin was a good and faithful servant and she will be sorely missed."