with Lynne and Leslie
Category Archives: celebrity

“Aretha has sung”: What a diva taught me about duty and standing your ground

by SweetMidlife

Leslie here! I have always been fascinated with the idea of niceness, especially when it comes to women. I’ve always suspected that a woman is considered “nice” the more she’s willing to let other people have their way, to accommodate what others want in exchange for downplaying her own needs, even if they are reasonable, so that everyone else is happy. And what’s more, she’s gracious about it and never lets on that she’s annoyed, even though she begins to wonder – If I’m the only one who ever has to step aside, to accommodate, aren’t the rest of you NOT being nice? And if you can do that and sleep at night, then why don’t I get to?

I was reminded of that weird line between nice and pushover when an actor friend of mine told me an awesome story a friend in the business had passed on about Aretha Franklin. She, of course, is known as many things – as the Queen of Soul. As a diva. As an innovator and vocal genius. As a legend, as well as someone who doesn’t always use enough fabric when she’s dressing herself. But a legend nonetheless.

What Aretha Franklin has never been known as is a pushover. More than likely, she seems like she’d be the one doing the pushing. The story my friend told me might be interpreted by some as just typical divagasms, as the entitled behavior of a long-coddled celebrity who wants things the way she wants them, with no compromise.

But to me, what The Queen did in this story was perfectly reasonable, the behavior of a professional who had earned, both in that moment and in her career, a certain leeway. And there weren’t even any minion beaten in the story, so…Team Aretha.

Here’s what I was told – Back in 1990, The Queen improbably recorded a promotional song for “Wheel of Fortune” about it being “America’s Game.” It was odd, but it was catchy, and because it was Aretha it sounded great. Apparently, my friend’s buddy was there in the recording studio where the jingle was recorded, and the mood was, at first, nervous, because of the expected divagasms. But Aretha immediately surprised and put everyone at ease with her friendliness and sweetness, shaking the hand of even the most humble technician. She apparently spoke to the producer, politely asking whether the booth was set to record. This was confirmed, so she went into the booth and apparently blew everyone away. It was brilliance. It was amazement. It was as transcendent as a song that name-checks Pat and Vanna could possibly be.

As soon as she was done and the adulation died down, the producer said something like “Hey, that was great! Fantastic! Now, let’s get another one in the can.”

The screech may not have been audible, but apparently it was felt immediately. Ru-roh Rorge.

“Aretha,” the Queen intoned, in the most insistently, regal manner possible, “has sung.”


“But wait!” the producer stammered. “We want to get another one to…

“You said it recorded, right?” The Queen asked, as, I imagine, the musicians and studio staff were quietly making their way to a safe space to hide under a sound board.

“Yes, but…”

Aretha has sung,” she said again. And then, without another word, The Queen gathered her stuff and walked out. And then got into a car. And left the premises. She did not ask for permission. She didn’t hem and haw. She did what she agreed to do, which was to perform a game show jingle, made sure that the perfect take was on record, and then went home. She was not required to jump through hoops, or to do 87 takes, or to do any more than she agreed to do.

AND I WANT TO BE HER. How many times have you gone out of your way more than you had either agreed to or than you should, just because you don’t want the hassle of people not liking you? How many committees have you joined, Mary Kay parties have you attended, boxes of people’s children’s stuff have you bought, because you want to be nice?

And even though you didn’t have to, or didn’t want to, you did it anyway, because you kinda get the feeling, even if you don’t want to think about it, that the people asking would not like it – or maybe not like you as much – if you said no. Even though “no” is your right – my pastor once told me that it is sometimes godly to say no, because stretching yourself thin doesn’t do you any good, and it ups the chance that you’ll do a bad job anyway.

This is not about avoiding work, but about negating the pressure to do more than we have to, just to save someone else some trouble, or that people “like” us. And it’s about your right not to be guilted or bullied into doing something you don’t want to just so people will think you’re nice. I have no problem going out of my way if I think it is necessary, or can do the job better. That’s often how you become good at your job. I just don’t want to be looked down on because I don’t back down. I want to be judged by the work I do, not how many times I let myself be bullied. How is that “nice?”

Aretha Franklin has apparently done a lot of things in her life to get people to think that she is a diva, in the ego-centric, blowhard, imperious sense. Then again, she is also a diva, in the classic sense – a singer who has earned her way to the top of her craft through her talent, experience and hard-won stature. She has earned the right to be judged on the strength of her talent, and to not worry about what people think of her, at least inasmuch as it gets her to do something she doesn’t want to do. Maybe she wasn’t gracious about her insistence. But she was cool in the beginning. She did her job and then she went home. Aretha had sung. Sung well. Y’all should be happy. Aretha Franklin sang you a song. Cut, print, tell Vanna and buy a vowel. Or don’t. Not my business. I’m already gone.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if the next time we’re being “nicely” urged to bite off more of our fair share of work or obligation for no reason other than it saves someone else some work, the next time we’re being casually bullied into something that doesn’t benefit us except for the supposed regard of the person who’s already asking you too much anyway, if we looked them in the eye and said “Mary has worked. Bob has already driven carpool for the day. Leslie has blogged.”

And then we gathered our stuff and walked away.

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