A bright and wonderful presence left us and this world on August the 16th when “The Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin passed away at the age of 76 from the evils of cancer. As her legal requirements are being worked on as we speak there are a lot of memories of Ms. Franlin that are being shared.
Her music, performing at funerals to say goodbye, and her time at three presidential inaugurations are chief among them. She brightened this world with her voice and brought a lot of good to us. But I will know her for something a lot of people like me remember her by, even if it doesn’t get a bunch of mentions in the media or on the news,
I mentioned it before and will say it here, I remember her from singing “America The Beautiful” from the opening of Wrestlemania 3. I am fully aware strangeness of having the first and foremost thought after a passing of someone to be a wrestling event. But I say this in that I grew up on that moment and seen it played MANY times since I was a little kid.
This took place on March 31, 1987. The (then) WWF was putting together one of the biggest wrestling shows in history with Wrestlemania 3, headlined by WWF Champion Hulk Hogan facing his former friend Andre the Giant. There were about a dozen other matches as well. The setting plays an important part in this memory as it was held at the Pontiac Silverdome near Detroit Michigan. Back then the auto industry was still booming and Detroit didn’t suffer the problem it does now. It was a different time.
Being in the middle of Detroit, what better person to have for the event was the “Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin in Motown. She was hyped to appear there well in advance leading up to the event. When it came down, the reported attendance was 93,173. That number is probably not true, but it is the number that was drilled into the fan’s head since then. No matter the actual number, it was a HUGE crowd. And Aretha Franklin opened up the whole thing. With a piano and some backup singers near ringside, she went into a rendition of “America The Beautiful”. She did not do anything else that night, however, the song was played to the fans watching over the credits to close out the show 3 or so hours later.
What made this different from many of those who did the same at Wrestlemania in the years to come was that this performance was not edited out when the show was released on VHS. A habit that would develop afterward was to cut the song and performance to save time on the videotape, but not here and not her. And those tapes were kept by fans like me FOREVER. So that meant that if we wanted to watch the greatest wrestling show of all time (their words) you would get to see Aretha Franklin in front of that crowd singing her heart out at the Silverdome.
Of course, this is wrestling so there is more to the story. A big part of that performance has it that she got stuck in traffic and was not able to rehearse the song beforehand. If that is true then she gets a round of my applause just for that! The other part is that for whatever reason the WWF made it a point after the event to say that she was a horrible person and she was the only “celebrity” that they didn’t like. No matter the reason for it, why would you say that on nationwide TV? No matter what stupid thing they said afterward, It was still a memory that I have and saw many times since. It must not have been that bad a deal for the WWF or Ms. Franklin either. Especially when the (now) WWE came back to Detroit 20 years later for Wrestlemania 23 and guess who opened the show?
They even used the same ring introduction from that night in 1987 to boot.
She gave us a lot to remember. I have my own memory to remember her by. Glad it isn’t forgotten.
Thank you, Aretha Franklin. May the memories live forever.