Technology is supposed to be your friend. Until it decides to teach you a lesson in humility when it feels you have not been reverent enough. I bought a new laptop in May, and I did not scrimp, I got a good one, or so I thought. I had a number of ‘hopeful’ people around me who wanted to inherit my old laptop, but I told them to hold on. I switched on my new laptop when I landed in London on my way back from the US. I got a message that it was updating. Shortly after, the screen started to flicker, and it became unusable. I am now sending it back to where I bought it. I ran back to my old laptop, only to find out that it had decided to become unusable as well. You can imagine the frustration. This is why there was no new essay last week.

Something phenomenal happened on February 25th 1998, at the 41st Annual Grammy Awards in the United States. Luciano Pavarotti was supposed to perform Nessum Dorma, an aria from Giacomo Puccini’s opera ‘Turandot’. Most people who are not fans of classical music (myself included) had never heard of Nessum Dorma till the World Cup in Italy,1990, when it became the theme song. Luciano Pavarotti’s career as a classical tenor took a new turn during this period. The hauntingly beautiful song tugs on the heartstrings of any human being, regardless of race, gender or class. Luciano Pavarotti sang the song all over the world till it became impossible to think about the song without conjuring his bearded, massive frame belting it out. On the night of the Grammys, the producers got a phone call thirty minutes after the show had started. Luciano Pavarotti was on the line and he told them, ‘I don’t feel well. I can’t come. I sing for you next year’. As you can imagine, the organisers almost had heart attacks. Then someone suggested they ask Aretha Franklin, who was scheduled to give her own performance at the Grammys. When I read all the reports of Aretha’s amazing performance that night, I could not understand what all the fuss was about at first. Of course, the woman can sing, I thought to myself. Why are they falling all over themselves because she stepped in and sang a song at the last minute? This is a woman who has been singing since she was a little girl, and who has a voice that can bring angels to tears and get God himself to pay attention. I then watched a clip of the performance, and then I understood. The world’s reaction to Aretha’s rendition of Nessum Dorma was not about the fact that as always, she belted out a song with her glass-shattering voice. It was to do with a shift in ‘ownership’. A song like Nessum Dorma belonged to a particular cultural space characterized by faces and voices which conjured up white privilege.  There are black opera singers but not that many of them, and Aretha was not a trained opera performer. Aretha did not exactly ’belong’ in that space.

When Aretha Franklin sang Nessum Dorma that night and brought the audience in the auditorium to their feet in a thunderous ovation, the message she seemed to be sending to the whole world was, ‘Pay attention. We all can do the unexpected. Do not underestimate anyone. We all have gifts from God. We all matter. And when given the opportunity, we can all shine like the brightest of stars. We are not what you say we are. We are what we dream ourselves to be. We are all worthy of respect.’. A few years later, Aretha Franklin brought President Barack Obama to tears with her rendition of ‘Natural Woman’, a song that was written in 1967 by the famous composer and singer songwriter Carole King, who was being honoured that night. During Aretha’s performance, Carole King looked like she had died and gone to heaven and at one point I wondered if she would be needing restraints considering how much she was jumping up and down at what was supposed to be a classy and formal event.  When the majestic Aretha rose from her piano and shrugged off her huge fur coat to sing the last part of the song, the entire hall rose with her. That woman could sing! If you have not already done so, please watch the 2015 Kennedy Honours performance on You Tube.

Aretha Franklin grew up in an age when the world was not kind to black people or women, and though times have changed, there are still many things that remain the same. Aretha’s story is a classic one of survival – parental negligence, two teenage pregnancies, racism, domestic violence, alcoholism, depression, health challenges and so on. Her unwavering tool for survival was her incomparable talent. As a die-hard Aretha fan, I watched with awe as this amazing woman strutted her stuff without a care in the world. Even when I feared for her as she continued to struggle with massive weight gain, and when her fashion choices raised eyebrows, I understood all those things to be about choice – her right to choose to live her life the way she wanted. Some poor choices might have been made, but they were hers to make. One of her most famous songs was ‘Respect’, and it has been described as anthem for the civil rights movement of the 1960s as well as the women’s movement. We all demand and require respect, on a personal, communal and institutional level. The same way a young black woman struggling with domestic abuse in private and racism in public yearned for respect all those years ago, there are still generations who find it hard to even spell the word as Aretha did for us in the song – R.E.S.P.E.C.T

Aretha Franklin hated flying, so let us imagine when she realised she could not take a bus to heaven, she would have had demanded that a private jet be sent for her. Another legend passed away two days after Aretha left, they were most certainly on the same flight. They did not have a lot in common on the surface, but on a closer look, they were perfectly matched. Kofi Annan, the great son of Africa, citizen of the world, leaves a magnificent legacy behind. As the world was coming to terms with Aretha’s departure, using words such as ‘Legend’, ‘Brilliant’, ‘Brave’, ‘Courageous’, ‘Talented’, to describe her, the words rolling in to describe Kofi Annan included ‘Selfless’, ‘Peace-loving’, ‘Passionate’, ‘Dedicated’, ‘Wise’.  I can imagine Kofi Annan, the perfect gentleman, introducing himself to Aretha on the flight to heaven. Aretha the diva would have given him a polite nod and said, ‘I am Aretha’. They would have started to talk about their respective careers spanning decades in vastly different circles. Then they would have noted the commonalities. Their selfless devotion to their chosen paths. Their love of family and community. Their commitment to peaceful coexistence. Their obligations to those who looked up to them as role models. Their passion for a better world than what we have now. They would have both agreed on the word respect.  And then Aretha would have started to sing, and she would have made Kofi Annan shed tears of joy and appreciation just as their aircraft ground to a halt at the gates of heaven. Goodbye Aretha Franklin. Goodbye Kofi Annan. Thank you for the wonderful gifts you gave us. Thank you both for teaching us the true meaning of respect. You will live on forever in our hearts. Have a great week.

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com


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13 Responses to LOUD WHISPERS: R.E.S.P.E.C.T

  1. Olakunle Olajide August 27, 2018 at 9:07 am

    Oh my!! Your imagination is beyond comprehension.. Truly, Respect is the word to use for these great icons. Well written ma’am.

  2. Vanessa Edem August 28, 2018 at 5:22 am

    God bless this wonderful human beings who graced us with their talents. We will miss them.

  3. Fola Richie-Adewusi August 28, 2018 at 8:58 am

    Erelu, you always Wow us with the LOWD WHISPERS!!!
    More ink to your pen!!

  4. Eric Onuoha August 28, 2018 at 10:48 am

    Lovely story filled with lessons. No matter the colour of our skin and what background we have, we can rise with determination. I respect you Ma for enlighting us.

  5. DSEED August 28, 2018 at 12:46 pm

    You earn my respect ma. Am always looking forward to reading your articles because you always have your ways of reaching out undeniable facts. More grace ma. And to our legends, we will forever respect your good works.

  6. Olushola Aderanti August 29, 2018 at 5:44 am

    It is a wake up call for us to use our talent, a wake up call for us to impact our community. The legacies will speak, after death there is nothing but legacies in form of memories. It was really a great blow on earth when these two giants walked away to the heavenlies. We will miss them. The perfect gentleman and the sonorous singer.

  7. Victor Udoh August 29, 2018 at 5:46 am

    I have been waiting for you to write this and now we have it. I have missed this column but I understand the times and please ma’am, we need you to rest well, don’t catch a flu biko. To these giants, mind blowing individuals who left mother earth, It’s a wow! Especially for Kofi. I admired the man so much and it’s just odd to add late to his name. His face, his smile, his words and his aura gave me so much joy knowing an African man can be so much more.

  8. Dom Dom August 29, 2018 at 6:54 am

    Sadly, I didn’t even know she has passed. Such a talent. These legends are gone now and they deserve our eternal respect as we continue to strive to make the world a better place as they have respectfully done with their lives. Adieu

  9. Femi Diipo August 29, 2018 at 6:58 am

    What a writer you are ma’am, and what an emotional piece. Even though I hadn’t heard or maybe can’t remember any Aretha songs I am filled with so much emotions reading these. May the soul of these legends rest in peace and may our lives matter too. They will always deserve out ultimate respect

  10. Esther Aderanti August 31, 2018 at 4:54 am

    Life is short so live your best life Now!!!

  11. Victoria E August 31, 2018 at 4:55 am

    Life is short so live your best life Now!!!

  12. Lanre Philips August 31, 2018 at 4:56 am

    Thank you for writing this thought provoking piece as usual. The best of life is the legacy that was made.

  13. Rekiya Umaru August 31, 2018 at 5:00 am

    when my friend told me about this site, I felt what’s the big deal through every of the post here I will say this is a big deal. Everything made good sense, every single thing right here. The content is smashing. This is a good place! Well done ma.


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