Barack and Michelle Obama paid tribute to Aretha Franklin in a beautiful statement after her death at 76. Comparing her to the closest thing America had to royalty, they described just how much they’ll miss her.
“America has no royalty. But we do have a chance to earn something more enduring,” President Barack Obama wrote in a statement from himself and Michelle Obama. “Born in Memphis and raised in Detroit, Aretha Franklin grew up performing gospel songs in her father’s congregation. For more than six decades since, every time she sang, we were all graced with a glimpse of the divine. Through her compositions and unmatched musicianship, Aretha helped define the American experience. In her voice, we could feel our history, all of it and in every shade — our power and our pain, our darkness and our light, our quest for redemption and our hard-won respect. She helped us feel more connected to each other, more hopeful, more human. And sometimes she helped us just forget about everything else and dance.
“Aretha may have passed on to a better place, but the gift of her music remains to inspire us all. May the Queen of Soul rest in eternal peace. Michelle and I send our prayers and warmest sympathies to her family and those moved by her song.”
The Obamas have a beautiful relationship with the late icon. Aretha performed at the former president’s inauguration in 2009, singing “My Country ‘Tis Of The” in an emotional, mesmerizing fashion. There’s wasn’t a dry eye on The Mall that day. You may remember her performance as the time she wore that amazing, huge hat decked out with a massive bow.
Years later, she moved Barack Obama to tears when she paid tribute to honoree Carole King at the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors. Aretha sang her classic, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” which King co-wrote. The extraordinary performance got her a standing ovation from the packed center, and the visibly emotional president and first lady continued to shed tears until the end.
President Obama said in a statement in the days after the performance, “Nobody embodies more fully the connection between the African-American spiritual, the blues, R&B, rock and roll — the way that hardship and sorrow were transformed into something full of beauty and vitality and hope. American history wells up when Aretha sings. That’s why, when she sits down at a piano and sings ‘Natural Woman,” she can move me to tears.” Aretha later declared it one of the “three or four greatest nights” of her life. You can watch the performance in its entirety in the video above.
Statement on the passing of Aretha Franklin by former POTUS and FLOTUS Obama. pic.twitter.com/vAaJkjg1LM
— Yasmeen Alamiri (@Yalamiri) August 16, 2018
The Obamas were not the only politicians Aretha had a relationship with. She performed she sang “America the Beautiful” for Obama-era Attorney General Eric Holder‘s farewell in 2015. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by former president George W. Bush in 2005. She performed at both of former president Bill Clinton‘s inaugurations. The Clintons released their own statement following Aretha’s death, calling her one of “America’s greatest national treasures,” who was “elegant, graceful, and utterly uncompromising in her artistry.”
She also performed at former president Jimmy Carter‘s inauguration in TKTK, and at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.‘s funeral in 1968. We’ve lost one of the most important icons of our time. She will be sorely missed by those she influenced and touched most in her life. Rest in peace, Aretha.