The queen of soul and the lion of the Senate share little in common, superficially.
Sure, Aretha Franklin and John McCain are widely admired Americans who were kids during World War II and who died nine days apart. Yet their backgrounds, experiences, styles, personalities and fans are as different as, ahem, black and white.
Not so fast, suggests Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who spoke at Franklin’s funeral Friday and attended Saturday’s service for her former colleague at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
“We are laying to rest two iconic figures,” Stabenow says. “Though different, [they] represent who we are as America, our true American spirit in music and culture and love of the country.”
A longtime Associated Press writer also believes the performer and the politician are united by more than their deaths in late August 2018 and their back-to-back televised tributes.
Ted Anthony, a 26-year veteran of the wire service, describes the pair in an essay as “so uniquely representative of the American experience” since 1960. That year, she moved to New York at 18 and was signed by Columbia Records. He was a 23-year-old naval aviator who just finished flight school and was assigned to fly A-1 Skyraider ground-attack planes from U.S. Navy carriers.
“Each navigated historical currents — rode them, you might even argue — and each figured out how to remain relevant and impactful on their communities,” writes the former foreign correspondent and editor who became digital innovation director at AP’s New York headquarters in March.
They moved across decades and changes and navigated a culture that their younger selves would not have recognized. . . .
That’s the crossroads where both Aretha Franklin and John McCain stood — shaped by the decade that reshaped so much of American life, but propelled into the 1970s and all the way to 2018, carrying some of the fundamental storylines of the 1960s as they progressed forward.
Think of the most dominant, most kinetic narratives of the ’60s, the fiery combustion engines that drove the decade: From race, gender and music (Franklin) to war and politics (McCain), they are contained in the two figures to whom we bid farewell this week.
They exit the stage together in an American moment not unlike the period when each emerged. Fifty years after the cataclysmic year of 1968, today we are in a similar period of upheaval and polarization. . . . What better time to stop and think about such figures, about what they meant and mean?
The journalist reinforces his perspective with two academic voices:
“So many figures from the ’60s are caricatures of themselves. Aretha Franklin and John McCain didn’t talk about the good old days. They wanted to bring the past into the present. They were living reminders.”
— John Baick, Western New England University historian
“If there were ever a moment for us to talk and sit down and reflect about who we are, where we came from and where we’re going, this weekend should give us that moment. . . . We have two giants who waded through these muddy waters for us. If we settle for just making them an icon or giving them celebrity, then we’ve completely failed in this moment of reflection.”
— Ron Pitcock, Texas Christian University assistant dean and specialist in American cultural memory
As Anthony sees it, the Detroit diva and Arizona senator are united by living “lives of high drama” and by their “staying power, too.”