Throwback: Black History Month: Aretha Franklin

February 10 is the tenth day Black History Month. And if you’ve been frequenting this site over the past month, I’ve been proudly featuring Black artists across a wide and eclectic array of genres and styles that I think can guide you towards further understanding of the Black experience. Of course, I hope that throughout this month you’ll remember — and appreciate the following:

  • Black culture is American culture — and Black music is American music. 
  • America’s greatest and beloved contributions to the world are Black music styles — the blues, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll and hip-hop. 
  • Black art matters. 
  • Black lives matter — all of them, all of the time. 

Tonight I thought it would be best to write about Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul. You can Google any pertinent biographical information but I have a story about ‘retha that I’ve mentioned on several occasions: I landed in 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 to discover that I had a couple of hours before anything was open.

Naturally, I took my camera out and started to wander around, walking through narrow, twisting and turning streets and alleys, eventually ending up in Dam Square around 8ish. I had a full day before I could even head to Dordrecht for my hotel, so I figured I should eat a traditional Dutch breakfast or have a cup or 12 of coffee or something. About 35 minutes later, I was standing in front of the Kaffe Haus De Hoek, patiently waiting for them to open.

A smiling, blonde waitress waved me in a few minutes before they were about to open. They had an oldies radio station on the air, playing familiar and beloved hits from a variety of decades. Within about two hours of being in Amsterdam, I was reminded of how ubiquitous Black music and culture are, and how important the Queen of Soul is when this radio station started playing ‘retha — and the waitress happily sung along in slightly accented English. Now, whenever I hear ‘retha, I think of that Dutch waitress singing along.