Aretha Franklin was the original pop diva (HuffPost)

Aretha Franklin was the original pop diva (HuffPost)

She taught Mariah Carey, Céline Dion and others how to do it simply by expressing her worth. “Divas Live” is proof.

“I assume you’ve heard the Aretha story,” said “Divas Live” producer Sean Murphy. He was one of a handful of people I spoke to for the 20th anniversary of the all-star VH1 concert series earlier this year. And yes, I’d heard the Aretha story. It was one for the history books, cementing her position as pop’s OG diva.

In its proper denotation, “diva” means “goddess.” That definition is sometimes lost in the word’s postmodern permutations, where it’s become a shorthand for “bitch.” We all know there are better synonyms: conquerer, artiste, doyenne, Aretha.

As popular music grew in spectacle throughout the 20th century, the personalities of the women making it got bigger. But none would be here without Aretha Franklin, the soul sister who died Thursday at the age of 76. Franklin made divadom possible, first by showcasing an impossibly fierce voice and later by demonstrating an awareness of just how valuable that voice was.

Take, for instance, “Divas Live,” which launched in 1998 with Franklin as the centerpiece. Four decades into her career, no female singer was more exalted than Franklin, even though she hadn’t had a Top 10 hit since 1985. Mariah Carey, Céline Dion, Gloria Estefan, Shania Twain and Carole King paid their respects on that April night, competing for a morsel of the star power that Franklin’s pipes summoned.

But it’s not enough to know that our pop matrons are talented. We want to know they’re in charge, that they have battled the forces of sexism and voyeurism and emerged unscathed. In that, “Divas Live” was Franklin’s ultimate crucible. Read more

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