Congressman John Lewis on Aretha Franklin: ‘One of God’s precious gifts’

A publicist for the iconic diva confirmed she has died in Detroit, MI, surrounded by loved ones.

U.S. Rep. John Lewis called the Queen of Soul “one of the greatest artists of our time.”

Aretha Franklin died Thursday at 76.

He was among many longtime friends and fans who spoke out about the award-winning singer, composer and pianist.

In a telephone interview, Lewis said he was “so sad” about Franklin’s passing.

He heard about her vocal talents when he was in school and used to listen to her on the radio. Her father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin, a powerful and influential preacher and singer in his own right, could be heard on the radio on  Sunday nights. , She would be there singing or playing the piano.

But there was another side to Franklin, Lewis  said she and her father  were very supportive of the civil rights movement. “She would always show up,” for performances to raise money,” he said. “She felt deeply about what was happening in the South.”

Perhaps his fondest memory was seeing her at the annual convention of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta in 1967.

“She got happy and wouldn’t stop singing,” he said. One of the Rev. Martin Luther King’s staff members quietly approached her and asked could she wrap it up. “She just kept singing. She just kept going.”

He saw her off and on over the years. She  once invited him to a birthday party she threw for herself in New York. She always asked about people from the movement.

“She never forgot anyone,” Lewis said.

He said he also saw her at former President Barack Obama’s inauguration, where she performed.

She was  decked in a gray coat and matching gloves and a very stylist hat.

Lewis  joked with her about the hat and asked where she got it.

“She said, ‘John, don’t you play with me about my hat’,” he said. “She was a beautiful spirit.”

In  a statement, he called Franklin “ one of God’s precious gifts to the world—one of God’s shining jewels. She is deeply loved by hundreds, thousands, and millions of people as the Queen of Soul. “ He praised her skill as a composer, arranger, pianist, and vocalist made her an icon and her interpretations of gospel .

“What made her talent so great was her capacity to live what she sang. Her music was deepened by her connection to the struggles and the triumphs of the African American experience growing up in her father’s church, the community of Detroit, and her awareness of the turmoil of the South. She had a lifelong, unwavering commitment to civil rights and was one of the strongest supporters of the movement. She was our sister and our friend. Whenever I would see her, from time to time, she would always inquire about the well-being of people she met and worked with during the sixties.

<p>NEW YORK CITY - JUNE 28: Aretha Franklin attends Martin Luther King Jr. Benefit Concert on June 28, 1968 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)</p>
<p>NEW YORK CITY - JUNE 28: Aretha Franklin attends Martin Luther King Jr. Benefit Concert on June 28, 1968 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)</p>

“When she sang, she embodied what we were fighting for, and her music strengthened us. It revived us. When we would be released from jail after a non-violent protest, we might go to a late night club and let the music of Aretha Franklin fill our hearts. She was like a muse whose songs whispered the strength to continue on. Her music gave us a greater sense of determination to never give up or give in, and to keep the faith.

“She was a wonderful, talented human being. We mourn for Aretha Franklin. We have lost the Queen of Soul.”