AS the Queen of Soul, she would expect nothing less than candour. So, on the passing of one of my lifetime inspirations, the elemental Aretha Franklin, I will try to appreciate her as honestly as I can.

Like Sinatra’s, or McCartney’s, or Bowie’s, Franklin’s voice makes possible what any singer afterwards even imagines they could produce. It clears original ground. She fused together the best of the gospel tradition, and the timing of jazz and blues, to perfection.

Might this be because few children ever had a musical upbringing like hers? Her father, CL Franklin, was a stellar preacher, at the heart of the civil rights movement. So the best of black talent passed through her home in New Bethel, Detroit.

READ MORE: Tributes pour in as Aretha Franklin the Queen of Soul dies at 76

Nat King Cole and Art Tatum played the house piano; Oscar Peterson, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Lou Rawls often came to visit; Dinah Washington coached her in singing. Her neighbourhood pals included Smokey Robinson and Diana Ross.

Aretha was confident on piano at age three and before her teens she was starring in the church choir as a “stone” singer (this comes from a line in St Luke’s gospel: “the very stones would cry out”).

So everything’s in there. The way Aretha takes sheer command of songs draws from all of these sources. It’s the basis of her pure tone, but also her defiant timing of phrases, her explosions of notes around a melody or lyric. It’s as if any song has to make sense within her universe first, and is then returned to this one, transformed.

Notoriously, she rendered others’ anthems as her own. Otis Redding first introduced the world to Respect, but after Aretha’s translation of it into a defiant feminist (and civil rights) anthem, he admitted: “It’s hers, I can’t sing it anymore.”

Her octave-vaulting version of Skylark forced the jazz great Sarah Vaughan and Etta James to drop it from their sets (“how the fuck does the bitch do that?” asked James). Hear her sing Simon And Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water to the hippies at San Francisco’s Filmore East in 1971, and you can’t imagine anyone else ever doing it again.

Yet there was a furnace driving Aretha Franklin’s virtuosity – a combustion of private and public history that gives her work its thunderous, life-changing power. On Newsnight on Thursday, Stuart Cosgrove – in his guise as Detroit music historian – quoted Franklin’s producer, Jerry Wexler.

“I think of Aretha as Our Lady of Mysterious Sorrows,” Wexler once wrote. “Her eyes are incredible, luminous eyes covering inexplicable pain. Her depressions could be as deep as the dark sea. I don’t pretend to know the sources of her anguish, but anguish surrounds Aretha as surely as the glory of her musical aura.”

Some of that pain has to be personal. Her mother left her philandering preacher father when she was five, with Aretha being brought up by a grandmother and a collection of gospel greats, including Mahalia Jackson. Franklin became a mother at 12, and again at 14 – all of this within the confusingly libertine environment of the gospel music circuit. Her first proper marriage was to a ne’er-do-well who beat her up on occasion.

So it’s not hard to imagine the emotional confusion and fragility, sitting behind – and indeed justifying – the musical authority of Franklin as the Queen of Soul. Her backstage behaviour was often described as diva-esque. Yet to me that’s completely comprehensible.

In my own brief musical and personal encounters with soul greats of this era – as a support act to James Brown, Ray Charles and Al Green – all of them expected the utmost politeness (“always say MISTER Brown”, advised his minder) before you even could attempt a hello.

And that points to the public history that courses through Franklin’s art. Basic dignity – indeed, respect – was part of her historic achievement.

It’s often been noted that 1960s soul music was a kind of bridge. Meaning a bridge between the gospel tradition, as an instrument of mental and spiritual survival for beleaguered African-Americans, on one side. And on the other, an urban, secular America, gradually awakening to its own racial blind spots.

The challenge was obvious: how could everyone, on all sides, be sung and grooved towards a better, more capacious place?

Aretha explicitly put herself in political contexts during the civil rights movement. She sang Precious Lord at Martin Luther King’s funeral: on the Newsnight segment, Jesse Jackson admitted that she’d covered one month’s wages bill of King’s organisation. Franklin also offered to pay the six-figure bail of the jailed revolutionary activist Angela Davis in 1970 (“because she’s a black woman and she wants freedom for black people”).

And none of the tributes over the last few days have been more fulsome than former President Obama’s, who effectively installed Aretha Franklin as the White House’s resident singer for his tenure.

“In her voice, we could feel our history, all of it and in every shade”, wrote Obama. “Our power and our pain, our darkness and our light, our quest for redemption and our hard-won respect.”

Typically eloquent. Yet it must always been remembered – and some forget this – that it is precisely the ingrained voice of a great artist, what they cannot help but say and do, that produces their most world-changing effects. The historian W. E. B. Du Bois once wrote that, “despite caricature and defilement,” the music of the black church “remains the most original and beautiful expression of human life and longing yet born on American soil”.

If you’ve been listening to anything from Aretha over these last few days, it becomes obvious that she – not by herself, but pre-eminently – was the one who bore this treasure, and delivered it to the heart of the listening world. But Franklin also moves you because, in a similar way to Sinatra, her songs often seem to be the only way she can deal with the sputterings and failings of her own inner life. Ten years ago, my brother made me a present of her Rare and Unreleased Recordings (highly recommended, and currently on the main streaming services).

All her registers are there – funky struts, punchy pop, gospel meltdowns. But it’s the first and last tracks that astound you. The opener is the first ever demo of Never Loved a Man (The Way That I Love You) in 1967.

Aretha is imperious but furious, at one point howling like a wolf into a distorting microphone. It’s probably at herself: the lyric is all about her mystified dependency on a manifest bastard. It is thrilling but disturbing: a woman in command, but of her own cracks and fissures.

The closing track is something you’ve probably never heard before – but you should try to. The song is her own, recorded sometime in the early 1970s, just herself and her piano, and bluntly titled, Are You Leaving Me.

Historically, publicly, Aretha is in her full pomp. Here, on this private and unreleased track, she seems to be in bits. Her voice is so high, pure and yearning, it nearly disappears into the ether. Her hands earth everything, striking out the most orchestral chords. And yet, at the centre of all this dazzling artistry, just another damn fool.

Well, as far as this damn fool is concerned, I think I’ve probably learned most about how not to be one by listening to Aretha Franklin. She is the tribune of R-E-S-P-E-C-T, in all its domains. But she is all too human as well. There’s her genius, and there’s her greatness. Rest in power, Aretha.