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EDITORIAL: Aretha Franklin, queen of American music

Aretha Franklin sings with The Blues Brothers during rehearsals for the 40th Annual Grammy Awards in New York in February 1998. Ms. Franklin died of cancer on Thursday. She was 76. | /Rick Diamond/AP Photo/

Aretha Franklin could make you proud to be an American just by singing.

She was the “Queen of Soul,” yes. She was just as easily the Queen of American Music.

It was all there — the gospel of the African-American church. The Southern soul. The urban blues. The Brill Building pop.

EDITORIAL

You could hear it in every song. There was the leaving behind of the Jim Crow South, where she was born in Memphis in 1942. There was the warmth of other suns, from growing up in Detroit and living in New York and Los Angeles.

Aretha Franklin was that, too: The Queen of the Great Migration.

As a singer, Ms. Franklin was unmatched. Her voice was a God-given marvel, but it was how she used her gift that made her art transcendent. She sang with extraordinary musical intelligence, moving behind the beat and swooshing ahead. She sang circles around a single word. She played counterpoint on the piano.

Ms. Franklin gave meaning to every note she sang, a commitment to her music that was almost jarring when she danced and clowned around in the 1980 movie “The Blues Brothers” while lip-synching the song “Think.” She had prerecorded the song, of course, and brought to it an emotional conviction that ran much deeper than her brief star-turn in the movie.

What do we do when a national treasure leaves us?

We say thank you. And we listen again.

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