Relationships 5 minute read

The Queens of My Heart

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Recently I was working on a “Soul music” compilation for a good friend. When my brother passed a few years ago, one the items he left was his DJ. Laptop filled with over 10,000 songs and a storage locker filled with over 1500 Albums. Anyway, while making good on that promise to create the Soul music compilation of mainly 60 and 70’s soul artists, I ran across a file my brother had labeled “THE QUEEN OF SOUL”. Immediately I began to smile. By the way, just In case any of you reading this weren’t born until the 90’s let me clarify, ARETHA FRANKLIN is the UNDISPUTED “Queen of Soul Music.”

As I began to listen to the extensive catalog of Ms. Aretha Franklin I started to smile. I hadn’t listened to most of these songs in years. Classics like Chain of Fools, Do right Woman; Do Right Man, Bridge over Troubled Water, Baby I Love You and Think. As my smile widened, I started to reminisce back to the first time I heard many of these classics. It was at my mothers’ Bridge club meeting. They called themselves “The Queen of Hearts.”

The Queens of heart was more than just a group of women that got together to play bridge. In truth, they were more of an unofficial support group. Playing Bridge was just an official reason to tell my father and the other husbands that for one Saturday out of each month the ladies were going to have an unapologetic “Girls Night Out”. I think most husbands approved immensely. I know my Dad did. So in essence “The Queen of Hearts” was simply a collection of black women who mainly lived on the South Side of Chicago and had two things in common. 1) They were all Black women trying to raise their families in the Turbulent 60’s and 70’s and 2) They were all very accomplished women who were a part of the first generation of black women who were finally allowed into corporate America on the managerial level. Prior to the passing of the civil rights acts of 1964 and 65, this was extremely rare.

I always loved when it was my mother’s month to sponsor the club meeting; every member sponsored a month, because I knew my mother was going to prepare a spread with massive amounts of my favorite foods. About half way through the festivities, my mother would start playing Aretha Franklin on the living room record player. She would often call me or my brother to make sure she was operating the new thing-a-ma-jig correctly. Aretha’s musical arrival at the party / Bridge game would always start with Aretha’s classic “RESPECT” and by time Aretha broke it down and said, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”, all the ladies were dancing, pouring wine and singing along with her in unison.

 

I always knew that once I heard the ladies singing respect one of two things was going to happen. They were either going to swap stories about how some white male co-worker tried to second guess their expertise. (You know back then “white folks” often questioned if a Black person in a managerial position was truly qualified or just a “New Affirmative Action” hire. I wonder if that is still a thing) or one of slightly inebriated friends of my mother was going to corner me and ask, “If I was going to be the kind of man they’d want their daughters to bring home. So whenever I saw one coming towards me I knew it was my queue to get the hell out of the area before the interrogation began.

By the end of the night I could tell all the ladies spirits had been renewed and that such gatherings were essential to the well being of all involved and their loved ones. Some would even tip me as they left. I never did anything to deserve it. I simply emptied their plates or brought them beverages. I actually knew the tips were “HUSH MONEY” reminding me that what was said at “The Queens of hearts” club meeting was supposed to stay at “The Queen of Hearts” club meeting.

My mother’s now 82 and she is one of the three surviving members of the “Queens of Hearts. They stopped the official meetings over 10 years ago when it became too painful for them to keep trying to replace their original members. Now the remaining three meet twice a year for lunch. I saw a recent picture of the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. She was looking rather sickly. I sincerely hope it is nothing serious, but it made me realize that I’d better cherish however much time I will have left with my mother. We all know that father time is undefeated, but at least I will always have the music of Aretha Franklin  to connect me to the memories of those incredible 12 Black women that helped shape my youth……………………

-Arvel Blair

Originally published January 13th, 2018

My intention is for Black people to love themselves and each other. It sounds somewhat silly, I guess; but oftentimes my people are overwhelmed with negative images, bad news, and stereotyped characters about us. I’d like to flip that script. I’d like to remind us, as often as I can, how incredible we are. Read more

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