Today is the second day of Black History Month. And over the course of the month, I’ll spend some time paying tribute to Black artists across a wide and diverse array of genres and styles. My hope is that these posts should serve as an important reminder that the Black experience is the American experience, that Black culture is American culture — and importantly, Black lives and Black art matter. You can’t love Black art and Black artists without giving a shit about Black people.
This month won’t be a comprehensive study of Black music. It’ll be more idiosyncratic because — well, JOVM after all. Now, if you’ve been following this site, you may recall that so far I’ve paid tribute to Chaka Khan, the Reverend Al Green, The Whispers, and Rick James.
Let’s pay our respects to the legendary Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, the only diva who really matters. Back in January 2017, I had flown to Holland for a part business trip, part vacation. I landed at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport early in the morning one mid-January Sunday. After going through customs and retrieving my suitcase — a suitcase that I had gratefully borrowed from a girlfriend — I took the commuter train into Amsterdam Centraal Station. I had a few hours before I could even check into my hotel in Dordrecht
I took my camera out and started wandering around, walking through some twisting and turning streets and alleys, before stopping at Dam Square. I figured that I should try to get a traditional Dutch breakfast and have a ton of coffee to survive through the day, the time zone changes and the train ride to my hotel. I did a Google search and about 35 minutes later, I was standing in front of Kaffe Haus De Hoek. I was going to patiently wait the 10 or 15 minutes until they opened — until a smiling, very blonde waitress waved me in.
They had an oldies radio station on, playing familiar and beloved hits across a variety of decades. Within two hours or so of being in Holland, the radio station played a ‘retha song — and the waitress happily sung along in a slightly Dutch accented English. Black culture is American culture. Black music is American music. And ‘retha is queen.