Ironically, it was a Queen that helped a democracy come together in 2009.
On Jan. 20 of that year, as Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th president of the United States of America - the first Black man elected to the country's highest office - Aretha Franklin added a punctuation to the historic day with an impassioned rendition of "My Country 'Tis of Thee."
As a living legend of pop and soul who'd galvanized audiences for nearly half a century when she took the stage in Washington, D.C., Aretha's performance harkened back to her days singing in Detroit's New Bethel Baptist Church with her father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin, while also pushing her career forward into through a fifth and sixth decade.
Millions of viewers around the world were enchanted by her blistering performance in the freezing cold, as well as the bejeweled hat she wore to the celebration. Created by Luke Song, a young South Korean immigrant living in Franklin's adopted hometown of Detroit, the church-style hat - designed to the Queen of Soul's specifications and topped with a large, rhinestone-encrusted ribbon - has spent time in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Smithsonian.
For Obama, Aretha represented the best of their country, which inspired him to help shape its present and future. "American history wells up when Aretha sings," he wrote of her work in 2015. "That's why, when she sits down at a piano and sings 'A Natural Woman,' she can move me to tears - the same way that Ray Charles's version of 'America the Beautiful' will always be in my view the most patriotic piece of music ever performed — because it captures the fullness of the American experience, the view from the bottom as well as the top, the good and the bad, and the possibility of synthesis, reconciliation, transcendence."
Fittingly, this timeless rendition of an American original by an American original will serve as the penultimate track on 2021's upcoming career-spanning collection, Aretha.