On this Homecoming Sunday, we welcome to our pulpit our friend and colleague, Rev. Dr. William S. Epps. Dr. Epps, the honored and esteemed pastor of the historic Second Baptist Church of Los Angeles, California, is no stranger to Shiloh. Over a number of years, he has preached and electrified us with his extraordinary biblical exegesis and gift for providing contemporary insights and application of those texts. We thank God for his presence and know that he will leave us with a message of encouragement and hope.
For those of us who are baby boomers, the passing of the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, on Thursday, was particularly sad news. Reports had been coming for some time that she was ill, and recently that she was gravely ill. Yet, when the final moment of her passing became a reality, it was difficult.
Always known and addressed by her first and last names, Aretha Franklin was more than just a rock n’ roll singer. She had deep roots in the church; her father, Rev. C. L. Franklin, was one of the best known and beloved of all Black preachers in the 1950s and 60s. Rev. Franklin was not only an effective preacher and pulpiteer, he was also a colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the struggle for freedom and justice. Aretha Franklin came out of that background. She began as a gospel singer and then made the difficult transition to becoming a soul icon, eventually earning her the title Queen of Soul. She excelled in all genres of music, not just rock n’ roll, and even displayed gifts for opera, most notably, in a legendary performance in 1998 subbing for Luciano Pavarotti…and “nailed it,” according to Huffington Post writer, David Moye. Most importantly, her music was a constant companion to the Civil Rights Movement, to Freedom Riders, to those who sat in at lunch counters, and to those who marched in the relentless call for freedom.
When I was a teenager, no house party was complete without a generous infusion of Aretha Franklin’s hits. Long before Afro hairstyles came into vogue, she was a “Natural Woman.” As the nation began to appreciate diversity, she went on to be a singer whose music was just as popular in white circles as it was in Black circles.
In 1987, Aretha Franklin became the first woman to be inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Although the induction was a historic, landmark accomplishment, the one song which eventually became the anthem of Aretha’s life was “Respect”—R-E-S-P-E-C-T. This song typified the aspirations of women everywhere, particularly Black women. While all women have been underpaid and under-appreciated, no group of women knows these plights more than Black women. They scrubbed floors, washed and mended their employers’ clothes, and too often experienced sexual and verbal abuse. As much as any group in our society, Black women wanted, needed and deserved “a little respect.”
At a time in this nation when hate speech has become commonplace, and where denigration of the vilest and most egregious sort occurs every day, Aretha Franklin’s words seem more poignant now than ever. What America needs at this juncture in time is for all of society — rich and poor, male and female, Black and white — to recognize that the key to civility lies in just having “a little respect.” Well done, Ms. Franklin; rest in peace.