Amazing Aretha: L.A.’s Black Community and Others Gracefully Honor “Queen of Soul”

Hollywood is known around the world as a “company town” for the motion picture industry and television, but Los Angeles is also a music Mecca. In January 1972, Aretha Franklin recorded the live album “Amazing Grace” with Rev. James Cleveland’s Southern Californis Community Choir in south L.A., and it became one of America’s bestselling gospel recordings of all time. After her death on August 16, to pay homage to the “Queen of Soul”, selections from that legendary Atlantic Records album were performed on the evening of August 30 at a sonorous, loving Gospel Music Tribute Remembering Aretha Franklin.


Literally 100-ish singers of the L.A. Chapter of the Gospel Music Workshop of America and the Southern California Community Alumni Choir performed under the batons of Rev. Calvin Bernard Rhone, Rev. Quincy Fielding, Jr. and Herman Jones, backed by an organist pianist, guitarist, and percussionists pounding the sharkskins on bongos and a snare drum set. The impressive array of solo and choral singers filled a phalanx of bleachers in the California African American Museum’s hall. Although they were clad in black, as their voices moved the standing room only crowd and filtered outdoors to where hundreds more watching big screen TVS were gathered in CAAM’s capacious courtyard, instead of mourning, songs such as “Amazing Grace” and Bridge Over Troubled Water” celebrated Aretha’s life and legacy.


Starting at 7:00 p.m. various dignitaries spoke glowingly about the Queen of Soul at the joyous event co-hosted by former executive director of the Los Angeles SCLC chapter and current L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the L.A. County Arts Commission and CAAM. In addition to Ridley-Thomas Her Majesty’s eulogizers included CAAM’s Executive Director George Davis, LACAC’s Executive Director Kristin Sakoda and Bishop Kenneth Ulmer, Pastor Faithful Central Bible Church. KJLH radio host Aundrae Russell emceed the two-hour or so musical extravaganza that featured about 20 of the original choir members who’d actually performed with Aretha almost half a century ago on the “Amazing Grace” hit album.


Other notables in the overflowing crowd included the Civil Rights icon Marion Wright Edelman, the first Black woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar, who practiced law for the NAACP and defended activists during 1964’s “Freedom Summer” crusade. Ms. Edelman went on to work on Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign and as a founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, she rather heroically stood up to the Clinton administration when the social safety net came under attack with White House complicity during the 1990s. I was thrilled to have the privilege to briefly express my gratitude to her at the Tribute for doing so and being a rare genuinely ethical voice in what passes for the public discourse on behalf of the least of these among us.


Also in attendance at the Gospel Music Tribute Remembering Aretha Franklin was former U.S. Ambassador to Micronesia and four-time Congresswoman Diane Watson from 2001-2011, who represented California’s 33rd congressional district, which includes South Central. Democratic Party consultant Bob Shrum, who managed to parlay losing campaigns for Al Gore, John Kerry and other losers into being a TV talking head and USC academic, was also on hand.


Why such a mass outpouring for the Queen of Soul? As Supervisor Ridley-Thomas pointed out in his eulogy: “Aretha used her vocal chords to generate cash for social justice causes. We honored her for her service to human rights and we paid tribute to her talent…” Indeed, as the daughter of Baptist preacher C.L. Franklin, Aretha was born into a prominent Civil Rights family, and she supported that and other causes on- and offstage.


One could say that the second half of August, which was also marked by the death of warmonger Sen. John McCain, was a story of dueling memorials, services and funerals. McCain’s record was mixed, but those propagandists and pundits praising him to the skies as a “hero” should remember his role in attacking and bombing a nation thousands of miles away from America, Vietnam, including killing many civilians - people who never dropped a single bomb on the USA. McCain never learned his lessons as an aggressor and went on to become the Will Rogers of militarism: He never met a war he didn’t like. He was a frequently nasty, cranky person who insulted the press and called CodePink “low-life scum” during a Senate protest against McCain’s fellow mass murderer Henry Kissinger. And lest we forget, McCain unleashed reactionary outlier Sarah Palin, foisting this rightwing fanatic upon America as a major party vice presidential candidate. In doing so, McCain helped set the stage for Trump and his brand of vile, fake “populism.”


Interestingly, amidst the onslaught of accolades for McCain, the agitprop claptrap somehow omitted the fact that McCain married (under dubious circumstances) an enormously wealthy heiress and he was a charter member of the ruling class (a son of military aristocracy, his admiral father is even mentioned by name in James Michener’s Pulitzer Prize winning Tales of the South Pacific). And nobody mentioned that he was widely viewed as an unstable traitor who was brainwashed while a POW (if you Google McCain and “Manchurian Candidate” there are more than 77,000 hits). (And see documentarian Michael Moore’s account of McCain’s attack on Vietnamese civilians, etc., at:,+%E2%80%9CMcCain+flew+23+bombing+missions+over+North+Vietnam+in+a+campaign+called+Operation+Rolling+Thunder%22&source=bl&ots=oahwdEEodn&sig=UkASNlFdkGaZ7T2rH6NPg7asSuA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiFn97uy5_dAhXJ3lMKHbOlAv8Q6AEwAHoECAIQAQ#v=onepage&q=Michael%20Moore%2C%20%E2%80%9CMcCain%20flew%2023%20bombing%20missions%20over%20North%20Vietnam%20in%20a%20campaign%20called%20Operation%20Rolling%20Thunder%22&f=false.)


Aretha Franklin, on the other hand, gave voice to the best within us, which is why the Black community and others embraced her. With songs such as “Respect” and “Think” she expressed ideals of equal rights for all, including for women and ethnic minorities, and won the enduring love of millions that manifested itself in remembrances across America, including the one held at the California African American Museum, south of the 10 Freeway - L.A.’s “Mason-Dixon Line.” Unlike the senator, the songbird was the real deal.


The third edition of “The Hawaii Movie and Television Book” co-authored by Rampell is available at: .