You probably did not know it, but the greatest accomplishment of Aretha Franklin’s storied career was not being the first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, or winning 18 Grammy Awards, or having more than 100 singles reach the Billboard charts, or singing at Martin Luther King’s funeral, or at President Obama’s inauguration, or her indelible impact on generations of vocalists.
No, all of the above pales in comparison to what future generations will surely remember most about the “Queen of Soul”: She “worked” for Donald Trump. Even more impressively, Trump says that she is “a person I knew well.”
Trump, of course, did not know Aretha Franklin “well” any more than I know Jackson Browne “well.” Back in 2010, Jackson performed at the Annual John Lennon Tribute, of which I am the producer. We spoke on the phone twice, met at a rehearsal, and chatted for five or ten minutes before and after the concert. Ever since, Jackson has sent me gingerbread cookies for the holidays and I have sent him copies of MAD Magazine, where I was an Editor for over three decades. Actually, wait, I take it back. While I don’t really know Jackson Browne at all, we are intimate friends compared to Trump and Aretha Franklin.
There is a publicity photo of Trump and Aretha Franklin, taken in May of 1997, showing them holding a check for the Lincoln Center Corporate Fund. Trump is clearly distracted, looking off to the side, and giving not the faintest indication that he knows who is standing next to him. The photo was undoubtedly shot during the five minutes of his entire life that Trump was actually with Aretha Franklin. By the way, there is a photo of me and Jackson Browne backstage at the 30th Annual John Lennon Tribute, a wonderful memory, though hardly proof that we're pals.
Aretha Franklin appeared at a Trump casino in Atlantic City 1988 and at the grand opening of the Trump International Hotel and Tower in 1997. That apparently is what Trump is referring to when he boasts that Aretha Franklin “worked” for him. I guess by that standard Jackson Browne “worked” for me too.
A few weeks ago, at one of his hateful rallies in Pennsylvania, Trump vomited up this about Maxine Waters: “Very low IQ. Low IQ.” His adoring crowd booed the veteran congresswoman from California, not for vehemently disagreeing with her political views (they have no idea what her political views are), but for being stupid.
Here are some facts, not that facts matter much anymore: Maxine Waters is one of thirteen children. Raised by a single mother, she worked in a garment factory and as a telephone operator before landing a job as an assistant teacher with the Head Start program. She later graduated from Los Angeles State College with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. What an idiot!
A few weeks after denigrating Maxine Waters, Trump referred to his once beloved Omarosa Manigault Newman as “a lowlife” and “a dog.” Why she was spared the “low IQ” insult remains somewhat of a mystery.
A few days later, following the news of Aretha Franklin’s death, Trump opened a cabinet meeting by lying about their relationship and assuring us “her extraordinary legacy will thrive and inspire many generations to come.” What an utter joke.
Trump, who knows nothing about just about everything, certainly knows nothing about Aretha Franklin’s legacy. He does not know that she toured with Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier to raise money for Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1967. He does not know that “Respect” became an anthem for the civil rights movement and feminism. He does not know the stunning voice that moved President Obama to tears when he heard her sing “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2015.
As a white man, I can’t possibly feel the depth of rage that many blacks and women, and especially black women, understandably feel about our imbecilic racist and misogynist President. One thing is certain: Aretha Franklin, a class act and a true American treasure, never would have betrayed her values by singing at Trump's "White" House.