A bipartisan group of four senators have introduced legislation to posthumously award Aretha Franklin the Congressional Gold Medal for her contribution to arts and culture. The “Queen of Soul” died August 16 at age 76 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
There are both House and Senate versions of the legislation, which is sponsored by Michigan Democratic Sens. Debbie Stabenow, Gary Peters and Rep. Brenda Lawrence, who represents Franklin’s adopted hometown of Detroit. The legislation is also backed by Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah and Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga.
“Aretha Franklin was soul personified and she gave us the gift of her voice, her truth and her unapologetic passion to demand compassion, love and R-E-S-P-E-C-T for women everywhere,” Lawrence said in a statement, adding, “An iconic entertainer, powerful civil rights leader, history maker and a beautiful spirit I was privileged to call friend; we honor this Detroit native, the true Queen of Soul. She will be dearly missed, never forgotten and always treasured.”
The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian award that is bestowed by Congress. Franklin was awarded the other highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, by President George W. Bush in 2005. Franklin performed for presidents in three decades — Jimmy Carter in 1977, Bill Clinton in 1993 and Barack Obama in 2009 — as well as Pope Francis in 2015.
Franklin used her music and status to advocate for political change and civil rights. Martin Luther King Jr. was a friend of her father, who was a minister and civil rights activist. Franklin, at age 26, sang “Precious Lord” at King’s memorial service.
“Aretha was simply a legend. Her work and impact will be felt for generations to come, and it’s long past time Congress honor her with the Congressional Gold Medal,” Harris said in a statement.
The most recent Congressional Gold Medal ceremony at the Capitol was for former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., who was honored earlier this year.