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S. 3359 (115th): Aretha Franklin Congressional Gold Medal Act

Should Aretha Franklin receive a posthumous Congressional Gold Medal?

Context

The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest honor that Congress can bestow on an individual. The very first one ever bestowed went to none other than George Washington.

In recent years, recent honorees have included former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole last December, Filipino veterans of World War II last October, and the “Monuments Men” who saved priceless works of art from getting destroyed during World War II.

The award has gone to 19 entertainers over time. The first was musician George M. Cohan in 1936, composer of patriotic songs including “You’re a Grand Old Flag.” Others have included Walt Disney, John Wayne, Frank Sinatra, and Peanuts cartoonist Charles M. Schultz.

What the bill does

The Aretha Franklin Congressional Gold Medal Act [H.R. 6681 + S. 3359] would bestow a posthumous gold medal on the R&B singer who died in August at age 76.

The singer — who helmed hit songs including RespectThink, and Chain of Fools — is often considered one of the greatest voices in music history. She is the #22 best charting music act of all time on the Billboard Hot 100 and notched six top-10 albums.

The bill was introduced in the House by Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI14) on August 24, eight days after Franklin’s death. Rep. Lawrence represents Detroit, the home of the Motown musical movement from which Franklin sprung in the 1960s. It was also introduced in the Senate by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA).

What supporters say

Supporters argue that Franklin was a legend whose contributions to American culture deserve Congress’s top recognition.

“Aretha Franklin was soul personified and she gave us the gift of her voice, her truth and her unapologetic passion to demand compassion, love and R-E-S-P-E-C-T for women everywhere,” Rep. Lawrence said in a press release. “An iconic entertainer, powerful civil rights leader, history maker and a beautiful spirit I was privileged to call friend; we honor this Detroit native, the true Queen of Soul. She will be dearly missed, never forgotten and always treasured.”

“From listening to Mary Don’t You Weep, to standing in the living room dancing to Rock Steady over and over again, to hearing from the Queen herself how lucky I was to be young, gifted and black — Aretha’s songs were the soundtrack of my childhood,” Sen. Harris said in a press release. “Aretha was simply a legend. Her work and impact will be felt for generations to come, and it’s long past time Congress honor her with the Congressional Gold Medal.”

Odds of passage

The House bill has 80 bipartisan cosponsors: 67 Democrats and 13 Republicans. It awaits a possible vote in the House Financial Services Committee.

The Senate bill has 39 bipartisan cosponsors: 36 Democrats (or Democratic-leaning independents) and three Republicans. It awaits a possible vote in the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee.

While that’s more cosponsors than many Congressional Gold Medal bills receive, it’s also much fewer than others, including some which have yet to pass. In terms of House cosponsors of Congressional Gold Medal proposals, the one for Rabbi Michoel Ber Weissmandl has 296 cosponsors, for Larry Doby has 294, for the murdered diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in Libya has 208, for Chinese American World War II veterans has 184, for the crew of the USS Indianapolis has 136, and for Justin Smith Morrill has 113.

Last updated Sep 14, 2018. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Aug 21, 2018.


Aretha Franklin Congressional Gold Medal Act

This bill instructs the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President pro tempore of the Senate to arrange for the posthumous presentation of a Congressional Gold Medal in commemoration of Aretha Franklin in recognition of her outstanding artistic and historical significance to the culture of the United States.