Happy birthday, Ms. Franklin!
Like millions of viewers, I’ve recently completed watching “Genius: Aretha” produced on the National Geographic channel, and streamed on Hulu.
While many people have been upset about how this production covered her life, since I did not know her personally, I do not know enough about her actual life to compare it to the series for accuracy. Distilling fact vs. fiction was not my experience.
Rather I allowed the series to take me further into a reflective place of sadness and deep empathic connection to the difficult journeys of Black women (seemingly a focus on singers …) living through earlier eras. This journey began as I watched The United States vs. Billie Holiday, both scripts written brilliantly by Suzan-Lori Parks.
At first, I admit, I struggled while watching Ms. Franklin’s struggles, which seemed to be never-ending in the first episodes. I kept asking, “WHEN will we get past the years with Ted so I don’t have to look at him no more?!?!?!” 😉🤦🏽♀️😄 I cringed with each of her childhood pregnancies, each time her mother discovered her father cheating, every time Rev. Franklin … well, was Rev. Franklin.
But I continued to watch, and like life, when we hang in there through sorrowful nights – joy indeed comes in the morning. Small sparks of light began to peek through – I think it was around episode three (or maybe it was four or five …) – when I had a particularly revelatory moment of Ms. Parks’ brilliance in connecting all of Ms. Franklin’s dots. It was like a flash in my soul. And as the series was winding down, I enjoyed learning that her motivation behind choosing music in the 80s and later (that I did not understand at the time) was to do FUN things, after already having a multi-decade career. (Of course, not that I had to understand! 😉😄) And finally, the morning’s joy arrived fully by the end of the series as we witnessed Ms. Franklin happy and fulfilled – triumphant.
THE most impactful part of the series for me, though, was the episode around the making of “Amazing Grace.”
I cannot express how much gratitude fills me right now. This double-album set was a staple in my house every Sunday morning growing up. I learned every nuance of every song, even coming to know the skips on the vinyl as actual parts of the song … 😉😄 The songs’ deep meanings were associated with a single mother’s struggles – my mom’s and then later in life, my own – until this series. Again, Ms. Parks’ meticulously laying out Ms. Franklin’s difficult life up until this recording made every moan and riff and lingering note fill with – overflow with meaning – meaning now that is deeply connected with the life of the singer and producer of this work. Most especially the 16 minutes of the title cut.
Now, I so get it. “Nothing but that same grace … will lead meeeeee right on, right on hommmmmme. Yeahhhhhh.”
#arethafranklin #genius #queenofsoul #blackwomen #nationalgeographic #hulu #suzanloriparks #blackwomenwriters #amazinggrace #mypeople
(c) 2021 candi dugas, llc