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Gene Simmons on the passing of Aretha Franklin

On August 16th, 2018, the Queen of Soul passed away at her home in Detroit, Michigan, after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

Aretha Franklin was 76 years old.

Tributes from around the world poured in — political leaders, musical icons and everyday people reflected on her unmistakable sound, social activism and command of seven letters: R-E-S-P-E-C-T!

Among those inspired by Aretha Franklin, legendary rocker and Kiss frontman, Gene Simmons. He told CNN’s John Vause, “There isn’t any corner of the world, any musical genre that isn’t struck, numb and dumb by the passing of Aretha. She was loved by everybody. I can’t think of anybody who didn’t love Aretha Franklin. And maybe that’s the real story.”

gene-aretha

Simmons recounted a story from the early-1980s when he was with Diana Ross and pitching a duet between the two legendary performers.

“I picked up the phone and called Aretha Franklin and I thought managers and lawyers were going to get in the way,” Simmons said. “And she got on the phone, ‘Hi, it’s Aretha.’ And you don’t know what to say. I suggested a duet between her and Diana and she said, ‘Sure, great idea.'”

Simmons continued, “I will tell you from my hand to God — the graciousness and the kindness and the relatability — there was no airs about her.” Sadly, the duet never happened. But Simmons admiration for the Queen of Soul grew exponentially from the experience.

gene simmons

A young Simmons, born Chaim Witz in Haifa, Israel, came to the United States when he was eight years old. He was in high school when he first heard Aretha Franklin’s version of “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” and he was forever changed.

“As a kid coming from Israel, I didn’t know anything. I’d never heard of gospel or church music and I was just getting used to this rock and roll thing… Chuck Berry and Little Richard and all that. In fact, I did the eulogy for Chuck Berry when he sadly passed away. So I was in love with this music.

aretha“I’m a few years younger than Aretha and this song comes on. I first heard it and saw it on TV — a guy named Murray the K, a local DJ in New York City, he was saying, ‘Alright, Aretha Franklin…’

“And, all of a sudden, she starts strutting out there with her back up there, this proud thing. And this voice came out. And I go, ‘What is that?’ You know, you stop what you’re doing. All of a sudden, you’re just taking by the incredible presence.

“I remember a moment in high school where between classes we’re walking by each other — and I will tell you truthfully without exaggeration, the girls of all races and creeds are walking down the hallway looking at the guys going, ‘Respect. Just a little respect. R-E-S-P-E-C-T.’ I’m going what is that? Profound is the word.”

Simmons contend that Aretha Franklin was in a league of her own. “Beyond anything else. I’ve met lots of people of note — presidents and the Dalai Lama — there is such a thing as in the presence of greatness.

“I would urge anyone who does YouTube videos, there’s a telling moment when the Godfather of Soul James Brown is doing a duet with Aretha Franklin. James Brown and Aretha are going at it. First it’s James singing, then, Aretha opens up and starts singing. James Brown is looking around and he drops to his knees and starts worshipping at the shrine.

“And that says it all.”

Yes it does. Respect.

Written & produced by: Ben Bamsey for “CNN Newsroom L.A.”

Gene Simmons

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