On being ... private

By Ingrid Sapona

The news of Aretha Franklin’s death this week was sad and interesting to me. When a friend asked if I was a fan, I said yes. I quickly prefaced my answer, however, with the admission that I don’t have any of her albums (or CDs, if we’re being specific). When it comes to musicians, I think that whether you have any of their albums is a sort of litmus test of fandom. But, I also added that one of the most memorable concert-going events I had was when friends and I waited two+ hours to hear her when she played a free concert here in Toronto in 2011. 

Of course, her passing was newsworthy and every news organization published or aired obits about her. I loved seeing the pictures of her through the years and the clips of her belting out various hits. Though I’d never really thought about it, when that friend asked, “But what was with the minks?” I smiled and said I thought it was kind of her signature. Actually, thanks to the endless playing of the clip of her singing Natural Woman when the Kennedy Center Honored writer Carol King, I realized it was really her way of letting the furs fall off her shoulder that was her signature.

Like most fans, I knew a bit about her background. I knew she was the daughter of a well-known preacher and that she grew up in Detroit, which she also called home for the second half of her life. I also knew that because of her father’s fame, she met many African Americans who were prominent in politics and in the music industry. I also knew that she toured via bus because she didn’t like flying. I don’t follow the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductions, but I assumed she was in there. But, until her death, I didn’t realize she was the first woman inductee. As is often the case when someone dies, through eulogies and other tributes, you learn things about them that you never knew.

In the case of Aretha, on her death, I was surprised to learn that she had four sons. But that surprising revelation was nothing compared to how blown away I was to learn that she had her first child at 12 years, and two by the time she was 14. I can’t even imagine that…

After hearing that, I realized how little I knew about her life beyond her hits. So, I watched various shows about her with renewed interest. One that I found particularly noteworthy had a video snippet of Barbara Walters asking her what the hardest time of her life was. Good question, I thought. Well, Ms. Franklin clearly didn’t appreciate the question. Stone faced, her response was something like, “I think we all know the answer to that, and so it’s not something we need to talk about…” They didn’t show any more of that interview, but I’m guessing Ms. Walters took that as her cue to move on.

Though I’d have loved to have heard Aretha talk about her personal life, I admired her for drawing a line between her private life and her public life. In this era where oversharing seems the norm, it’s nice to be reminded that true R-E-S-P-E-C-T is based on talent and achievement, not simply notoriety.

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona


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