When the death of Aretha Franklin was announced on Thursday morning, one US president paid tribute to a voice that offered “a glimpse of the divine”, in which Americans could feel “our power and our pain, our darkness and our light, our quest for redemption and our hard-won respect”.
That was the former president, Barack Obama, who released a joint statement with his wife Michelle praising the legacy of the woman known as the “queen of soul”.
Donald Trump, on the other hand, could not resist opening his remarks on the singer’s death with a little self-promotion.
“I want to begin today by expressing my condolences to the family of a person I knew well. She worked for me on numerous occasions. She was terrific – Aretha Franklin – on her passing,” Trump said at a White House cabinet meeting, according to a pool report.
He continued, more warmly: “She’s brought joy to millions of lives and her extraordinary legacy will thrive and inspire many generations to come. She was given a great gift from God – her voice, and she used it well. People loved Aretha. She was a special woman. So just want to pass on my warmest best wishes and sympathies to her family.”
Trump did not explain further when he said he knew Franklin well and she “worked for” him. But the singer had performed at one of Trump’s casinos and was photographed with him at the grand opening of New York’s Trump International Hotel & Tower in 1997.
Franklin drew much more notice for her performance at Obama’s first inauguration in 2009, when he was sworn into office as the first black president and she sang My Country, ’Tis of Thee on the steps of the Capitol. She also sang (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2015, attended by Obama, and her performance moved him to tears.
But the Obamas’ statement focused on Franklin’s importance to Americans.
The Obama's statement on Aretha Franklin's passing: "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." pic.twitter.com/zfCh4qup2r
— Hunter Schwarz (@hunterschwarz) August 16, 2018
“America has no royalty. But we do have a chance to earn something more enduring. 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,” they said.
“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.”
The Obamas sent their prayers to her “family and all those moved by her song”.
Trump posted a tweet that concluded: “She will be missed!”
The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, is dead. She was a great woman, with a wonderful gift from God, her voice. She will be missed!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 16, 2018
This story originally appeared in The Guardian. Image courtesy of George Pimentel/WireImage.