A Heart of Detroit: A Reflection on Aretha Franklin by Norah Duncan IV, Chair of Department of Music


Norah Duncan IVOn Friday, August 31, 2018 the Chair of the Department of Music, Norah Duncan IV, welcomed students, faculty and staff at the annual Music Convocation in Schaver Music Recital Hall.  On this day, the iconic 'Queen of Soul', Aretha Franklin, was being memorialized at Great Grace Temple in Detroit.  Dr. Duncan reflected on this historic occurence during his opening remarks.


Greetings Students, Faculty and Staff,


It is important that I take a moment to make a statement about the iconic Queen of Soul, the legendary Aretha Franklin.  At this hour, millions of people are participating in her funeral by way of television, radio and the internet.  Gathered at Greater Grace Temple is an unimaginable assembly of former presidents, politicians, actors, musicians, and other celebrities. Networks from around the world have jammed the intersection of West Seven Mile Road and Lahser today. In this musical town, Motown, the world is celebrating the life of one of her most esteemed and beloved daughters.  Again, she has placed a spotlight on Detroit. 


Perhaps like many of you, I have been spending a lot of time listening to her recordings.  Raised in the Black Gospel tradition, Aretha was proficient in a number of music styles including R&B, Blues, mainstream Pop and Jazz.  Her voice is unmistakable.  Simply put, it is a voice heard only once in a millennium.  A mixture of pathos, angst, soul, joy, it personified her life, the life of Detroiters, African Americans, and was transformed into the voice of the Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Rights and various other causes around the world. 


She was the Queen of Soul, soul as “the Spiritual essence, animating principle, or actuating cause of an individual life.” and of “Soul Music” which originated in the African American community, and made up of gospel music, rhythm and blues and jazz. On being the Queen of Soul, Aretha said the following: 


Being the Queen is not all about singing, and being a diva is not all about singing.  It has much to do with your service to people and your social contributions to your community and your civic contributions


I have always been fascinated by the name “Aretha.”  In Greek, the meaning of the name Aretha is beauty, virtuous, excellence.  HOW DID HER PARENTS KNOW? Coincidentally, if you were to take the letters in her name and re-arrange them, you would get two words “A Heart.”


That that is what Aretha was……..“A heart of Detroit.”


While students and faculty at this university in the HEART OF DETROIT, I urge you to take time to get to know your city – DETROIT.  You’re right in the middle of it.  I guarantee that you will discover other Arethas.