Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan showed up at Aretha Franklin’s funeral last week in Detroit. It wasn’t clear whether Farrakhan had been invited but he got a front-row seat next to former President Bill Clinton. Viewers young and old might have wondered who this guy is and why he was there at all.
Born Louis Eugene Walcott, Farrakhan was a calypso singer who in 1949 played violin on the “Ted Mack Amateur Hour.” As late as the 1980s he released a recording that, as the Washington Post explained, “represented a reaffirmation of his calypso roots.”
The composer-performer of “Ugly Woman” and “A White Man’s Heaven is a Black Man’s Hell,” did not sing at the memorial service for Aretha Franklin, daughter of a Christian minister who came up singing gospel music. Her “Amazing Grace” album included the tune “Give Yourself to Jesus.”
The Nation of Islam, by contrast, marks Saviour’s Day to honor NOI founder Wallace Fard Muhammad. This year Farrakhan celebrated the occasion by proclaiming that Jews are “the synagogue of Satan,” that the white people running Mexico are “Mexican-Jews,” and that Jews control Ukraine, France, Poland and Germany. Farrakhan also claimed that Jews control the US government and the FBI and use marijuana to feminize black men.
The Nation of Islam leader did not preach at the Franklin funeral and none of the illustrious guests, including Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, gave any background on the man in the front row beside Bill Clinton. Fortunately, that had already been done.
As Stanley Crouch explained in the Village Voice in 1985, in the view of Nation of Islam boss Louis Farrakhan, “the white man was a devil ‘grafted’ from black people in an evil genetic experiment by a mad, pumpkin-headed scientist named Yacub. That experiment took place 6000 years ago. Now the white man was doomed, sentenced to destruction by Allah.”
So as Farrakhan has it, people like Leonardo Da Vinci, Joan of Arc, Rembrandt, Shakespeare, Beethoven, Thomas Edison, and Hillary Clinton are all the result of Yacub’s failed experiment. So were a lot of the people on Aretha Franklin’s recordings.
She recorded “Respect” and other hits at the Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama, where the session musicians were all pale people. By all appearances, what mattered to Aretha was whether they could play, and the music was always a joint production of ebony and ivory. On her “Aretha’s Jazz” album, producer Quincy Jones brought in altoist Phil Woods and baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams. Aretha Franklin’s music never reflected anything like Louis Farrakhan’s gospel of hatred.
According to the former calypso crooner, Dave Brubeck, Frederic Chopin and the Wright Brothers and Righteous Brothers alike were the result of Yacub’s failed experiment. And as he said for Saviour’s Day, Jews control the US government and the FBI and use marijuana to feminize black men. Plenty there to condemn but none of the clergymen at the Franklin funeral had anything negative to say about Louis Farrakhan. The target of choice was Donald Trump.
“You lugubrious leech, you dopey doppelgänger of deceit and deviance, you lethal liar, you dimwitted dictator, you foolish fascist,” Georgetown University sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson called President Trump. If ladies’ man Bill Clinton and “Fast and Furious” attorney general Eric Holder had similar thoughts they held off.
Some in the funeral audience might have wondered why the first African American president, an Aretha Franklin fan and a commanding orator, was missing in action. As it happens, his absence could have something to do with the presence of Louis Farrakhan.
Back in January, a month before Saviour’s day, Tucker Carlson of Fox News broke the story of a 2005 picture showing the senator known as Barack Obama happily posing with Louis Farrakhan. Had this photo been made public at the time, Carlson said, it could have changed the 2008 election.
“We should have nobody in public office associating with a bigot like Farrakhan,” Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz told Fox News. Farrakhan is a “virulent anti-Semite and anti-American,” and a “horrible, horrible human being.”
In all likelihood, POTUS 44, formerly known as Barry Soetoro, did not want a second posed photo with Farrakhan. As he liked to say, the optics wouldn’t be good. On the other hand, Bill Clinton, Eric Holder and others have no problem associating with the virulent anti-Semite and hatemongering racist. Democrats and their media allies remain uncritical of a man who admires Adolph Hitler and blames the Jews for 9/11.
As his appearance at the Franklin funeral confirms, Louis Farrakhan wields considerable clout with the Democrats. They might take a cue from what Aretha Franklin said in The Blues Brothers: “You better think about the consequences of your actions!”
After Franklin’s death President Trump tweeted “She was a great woman, with a wonderful gift from God, her voice. She will be missed!” That is true but those who know Aretha Franklin only as a singer might check out her piano solo on “Somewhere,” by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim.
Aretha Franklin found a new way of living, singing and playing. She made the world a better place, and she’s in a better place now.