At such times as the death of a beloved superstar, YouTube earns its keep.
This online depository of a billion-plus videos is like a national archive, and unlike the real National Archives, the contents of the YouTube archive are accessible to all instantly.
True -- much of the content on YouTube often seems to be people in the act of doing something stupid. But it is also an invaluable resource for anyone mourning the passing of an entertainment icon such as Aretha Franklin, who died Thursday at age 76.
Aided by often anonymous contributors who seem to never tire of posting video clips of every description all day every day, YouTube is like an online museum of our analog TV past.
Who among us has not gone to YouTube after hearing of the death of a legend such as Aretha or Fats Domino (who died last October) or Chuck Berry (who died in March 2017) to seek out their classic performances, many of which were on TV?
The above photo of Franklin was made from one such performance. It's a TV performance whose origin is not identified except its year -- 1970. In the clip, she sings “I Say A Little Prayer” and unsurprisingly, it is electrifying (watch it here).
When I searched “Aretha Franklin on TV” on YouTube, the earliest performance I found was one from 1960 in which she sang “Mockingbird.”
Other clips had her on such shows as “Shindig” and “The Steve Allen Show.” In some of the clips, she accompanies herself on the piano, providing a glimpse of her extraordinary musicianship.
As with the other greats whose careers went back to TV's first decade or so, the early clips of Aretha Franklin are invariably in black and white. They range widely in their quality too. Some are clear, and others are in various states of distortion.
They are from the era of broadcast television, a medium whose role in the showcasing of recording artists of all kinds -- young, old, black, white -- cannot be over-stated.
And now, YouTube is playing a similarly crucial role, helping to ensure that the greats are not forgotten.