- from Aretha Franklin
You may recognize the expression “in the limelight.” It’s a phrase that describes someone who is the focus of attention.
The expression has nothing to do with the green citrus fruit. Actually, the word limelight got its start in the 19th century. Back then, it referred to a kind of lighting used in theaters. It was produced by calcium oxide, or quicklime. Whether Aretha Franklin knew the history of the phrase or not, she spent plenty of time in the limelight – beginning in the 1960s all the way until her death in 2018 and beyond.
▲ The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which opened in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1986, celebrates the history of rock music. The hall recognizes the importance of rock music in our culture. It honors individuals who changed the sound and shape of American music. Possible members are voted on by more than 1,000 people. Who are they? Artists, historians, and members of the music community. What do they take into consideration when they vote? The length of an artist’s career. Her or his influence on other artists. Plus, the quality of the person’s style and technique. In 1987, Aretha Franklin was the first female artist chosen to be in the hall.
◀ The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest honor our country gives to a private (nonmilitary) citizen. It goes to people who have made extraordinary contributions. The contribution may be to national security, world peace, or cultural undertakings. Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. received the award. So did actress Meryl Streep and musician Stevie Wonder. In 2005, President George W. Bush awarded the medal to Franklin. The citation (statement of praise) that accompanied the medal contains the following words.
The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin has recorded more than 20 number one singles and revolutionized American music. Her instantly recognizable voice has captivated listeners ever since she toured with her father’s gospel revue in the 1950s. She is among our nation’s greatest musical artists and has captured the hearts of millions of Americans. The United States honors Aretha Franklin for her lifetime of achievement and for helping to shape our nation’s artistic and cultural heritage.
Franklin took part in the inaugural celebrations of three presidents. She performed for President Jimmy Carter’s Inaugural Gala the evening before he was sworn in to office in 1977. She did the same for President Bill Clinton in 1993 and 1997. President Barack Obama invited her to perform at his swearing-in ceremony in 2009. That’s when she sang her version of “My Country, ’Tis of Thee” (shown here). ▶
A Grammy is an award given to acknowledge achievement in music. Each year, more than 75 Grammy Awards are given to artists in different genres. Like pop, R&B, gospel, rock, and classical music. Franklin won 18 Grammys. They included awards for the Best Soul Gospel Performance and the Best R&B Female Vocal Performance. She also received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and a Grammy Living Legend Award. It’s no wonder she’s number one on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of “The Greatest Singers of All Time.” ▶
▲ Amazing Grace is a documentary film about Franklin. In the film, she’s performing gospel in a Los Angeles church in 1972. The film was supposed to make her into a movie star. But it never did. Why not? Because the film was not released to the public back then. Someone made a mistake when the documentary was being filmed. The audio (sound) and video (picture) didn’t match up. In those days, the technology to fix the problem had not yet been developed. So the film sat on a shelf. Times are different now. The problem was fixed. And the film was released in 2019. Amazing Grace is pure Aretha Franklin. There’s no chat, no commentary, no special effects. Just live sound as it was happening.
◀ The Pulitzer Prize is an award given for achievement in journalism, literature, and music. A year after her death, Franklin was awarded a Special Citation prize. She was the first female performer to receive this prize. (Other Pulitzer Prize recipients include rapper Kendrick Lamar and singer-songwriter Bob Dylan.) The award recognizes Franklin’s lasting contribution to American music and culture. Shown here accepting the award on Franklin’s behalf are music producer Clive Davis (far left), who worked with her for nearly 40 years, and Gwendolyn Quinn, her longtime publicist. The award was presented by Columbia University President Lee Bollinger (center).