When the Pulitzer prizes were announced recently, among the winners was a familiar name: Aretha Franklin. The win marks the late Franklin as the icon she has been labeled for decades and reminds the public of the place popular music has in the world of arts and letters.
Aretha Franklin, the Pulitzer and Kendrick Lamar
Last year, when rapper Kendrick Lamar won for “Damn” (stylized “DAMN”) it was the first time a nonclassical or jazz album won since the awards expanded to include music in 1943. The win was monumental for rap, for black American culture and for the development of American culture. Marking a rap recording as important as books and journalism for example, shows how far rap has come from the early days of its invention and popularity.
Some audiences might have had expectations about what album and artist would be honored by the Pulitzer committee this year. However, Franklin’s win is for contributions to American music and culture over five decades. The award is actually a special citation that has been awarded since 1930. Other special citation winners are Bob Dylan, John Coltrane and Hank Williams. Franklin is the first woman to win the award. Franklin was also the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She scored 73 hits that reached the Billboard Top 100.
The award feels appropriate for the Queen of Soul. It does remind people of the sad moment in which her passing was announced, and the award reminds audiences that Franklin is not here to speak to what the special citation means to her. However, it is important that audiences understand the importance attributed to the singer’s work.
Franklin died of pancreatic cancer at age 76 in August 2018. This year’s Pulitzer winners were announced April 15, 2019.