Aretha Franklin/ Diana Ross

(Originally published in Boston Magazine, Summer 1996)

Two great stars of rock and roll are converging near Boston this summer, rising up near the sea, as Goddesses so often do: Diana Ross and Aretha Franklin.

When I was young, they represented the two poles of women’s experience.  Diana’s sweet, lyrical voice celebrated a woman’s capacity to abandon herself completely to love. Aretha’s “Respect” was the ultimate expression of a woman’s righteous anger: knowing when to stop, when to say no, when to move on, Diana was love and longing; Aretha—Lady Soul—was power and pride.

Over time, I came to realize that there’s pride and power in Diana Ross—in her pose and polish and supreme self-confidence—and tenderness and yearning in Aretha. Even in her angriest songs, there are moments of embracing, spiritual softness.

Love and self-respect, far from being opposites, have to come together to get it right.

Over the years, the music of Aretha Franklin and Diana Ross has played continuously on the inner soundtrack of my life, encouraging and inspiring me.

I sang “Baby Love” as a lullaby when my son was little; stormed out of a bad work situation humming “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”; quoted from “I Hear a Symphony” (“Pulling me closer and closer”) to describe the experience of looking at a painting by Monet; set a romantic mood by playing “(You Make Me Feel like a) Natural Woman.

When I was learning to love opera, I recognized Diana’s and Aretha’s magical ability to transform feelings of loneliness, outrage, and pain into beautiful music, like the arias of classical divas.

When I was studying Greek mythology, I saw them as present-day embodiments of ancient goddesses, projecting dazzling images of beauty, power, glamour, self-possession, and grace.

And when my soul was in the Lost and Found, their voices helped me claim it.

by Rebecca Nemser for

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