RESPECT is the film adaptation of the life story of Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul. Aretha Franklin is known by many as the one of the greatest singers and artists who ever lived. Her career spanned decades, crossed and dominated multiple genres, and garnered the most prestigious awards and honors. Her personal life was deeply complex, but her ability to articulate the depth of human experiences through music could not be clearer. RESPECT tells the story of Aretha Franklin’s journey of faith and finding her voice. UrbanFaith sat down with Jennifer Hudson, the star of the film who portrays Ms. Franklin to discuss the themes of faith, Gospel, and how to find our voices from the film. Full audio interview is linked above, the text of the interview below has been edited for clarity.
My first question for you after seeing the movie is about faith. Of course, it has so much faith in it. And a lot of the movie is about Aretha’s faith. What role did you see faith playing in that movie, and in your work with it?
Oh, it was mandatory. So that was the main thing, I was determined to make sure this was present. If my executive producer credit counts for anything, if I could add one thing, it was the Gospel. and I was like, we got to have a Gospel, you gotta have a thing. You gotta have faith. I don’t care what she’s singing or what’s happened in her life, THAT has always got to be present. It’s the same for me as well. For Aretha as well as for me.
And it seemed like it was really well presented as a story of redemption, you know? And why do you think that’s important for people to see, especially in a time like this, where there’s so much chaos, to hear these stories of hope out of that?
I think it’s even more impactful and powerful when it comes from someone like a legend and icon. But people don’t think that they go through real life things. And I look at it almost as if this is kind of like her testimony in a way; to see her struggle, go through life, be human, and still prevail. That’s a testimony. You know what I mean? And it inspired me. Yeah. And I think it would inspire so many others, because it’s to me misleading to let people think you just get what you want, or nothing’s going to happen, you’re not going to face anything. So when you get to see the life, the human, the person, you know, it kind of puts it in perspective, you know, and I don’t know how anyone would not find that inspiring.
(ctr) Marlon Wayans stars as Ted White and Jennifer Hudson as Aretha Franklin in RESPECT A Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film Photo credit: Quantrell D. Colbert
Yeah, I really appreciated how complex all the characters were. I mean, you did a phenomenal job bringing Aretha and all her complexity out. But I thought that was the case across the board for the cast, how did you prepare to try to embody all that complexity over years?
That was another challenge, because it’s kind of overwhelming. When you think of Aretha, like she has decades and decades of a career. And it’s like, just trying to condense the music alone, eight albums before a hit. Okay? That’s one thing. Then you think of the life. Then you think of the people that were in her life. Then you think about what was going on in her life. What part of the story do you tell? But I think that was more of a challenge for Tracy, and the writer, I’m like, how are they gonna be able to… I don’t want to say condense…but get it all in? Because it’s such a powerful story in every capacity.
And it did tell this story that ended with Gospel that began with Gospel and her relationship with the church. What is some good news that you feel like the world needs from this film?
Um, I would say… my God, there are so many things. If I had to narrow it down to one, what would it be? I was gonna go to the base of her trusting her voice, and finding your own [voice], because it wasn’t until she owned hers, that we got our Queen of Soul. You know, to me, if we all took the time to do that within ourselves; what’s in there? [What’s] here to share with the world as our gifts? You know what I mean? So it makes you kind of want to relook at yourself. At least for me, it did. And encouraged me to want to…trust my own voice, path, experiences, and it shows things will prepare you for [what’s] next. But I kind of see things differently from everyone else. But I do think there’s something in [the movie] for whoever the viewer is, it’s just a matter of what you need, what you’re looking for.
Finding Her voice was something that really stood out to me as she had to deal with so many people trying to control her voice. And I want to know, what advice would you give to a young person young woman or a young adult about how to find their voice?
Wow. One, not to give it away. Because that can happen. And I think we take our voice for granted. And what I mean by that, is you may have a voice, but are you using it?
You know? And to me, that’s the trickiest part. Because yes, I have a voice. But is it telling my story? It should tell your story. It’s should speak of your experiences. We all have a story to tell. And we can only tell that story through our voice. So that’s what I mean by don’t give it away. Because it can happen unconsciously. It’s like, when I speak what am I speaking for myself? Am I speaking from my truth? Am I speaking from my experiences? Or am I going through the motions of what someone else would have me to do? And you could get confused by that by using your… the sound of your voice. But are you speaking for yourself? That’s when it gets tricky.
Jennifer Hudson stars as Aretha Franklin and Forest Whitaker as her father C.L. Franklin in RESPECT A Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film Photo credit: Quantrell D. Colbert
It does. One of the things that I appreciate, though, is that she had to figure out that people were for her. I want to know, how is it that the community has helped shape you, as you’ve taken this on?
Oh, my God…wow, that’s a good question. It’s been a… it’s been what is needed to be when it’s needed to be that. You know what I mean? When I need a push it’s there, like right now [there’s] so much love. So much support even when I don’t see things the way…it appears? That encouragement is there. That support is there, that I love is there, which is needed right now. Or when times are down. There are people are like, come on, keep going, keep pushing. So it varies depending on the situation. But [there are things that are there ] to teach you tough lessons, too. So again, it varies.
Absolutely. And so again, a last word for any young adult, especially young adult faith, trying to figure out how can they get to success. You’ve accomplished so much. What is the advice that you would give trying to figure out how to be successful?
Well, one, no one knows your potential the way you do. And if people don’t see your dream and your vision, it’s only because they don’t dream as big as you do. And nothing is JUST that. [People say] “oh, that’s just this, this just that.” Well, honey, just singing the tribute got me right here today. You know what I’m saying? So I’m trusting that. And if you keep at something, it has no choice but to give. And NEVER…this is what I told myself after Idol before Dreamgirls. After I was eliminated from American Idol…and I really want to share this with this community. When I started out, I was like “I’m gonna win.” And people were like, “Well, what if you don’t? What if you don’t win?” So I started believing them.
And that’s when I started to say, “I’m gonna do it for the experience.” And I let them talk me out of my faith. I let them interrupt that faith. So when Dreamgirls comes around and someone wants to say something that wasn’t in my train of thought I said, “No, I will not interrupt my faith. This is mine and I’m sticking with it.” And I learned that lesson. That’s what I mean by nothing is “just.” So even when it’s an experience that didn’t turn out the way you wanted it to [turn out]…it can still prepare you for the next thing. Because by the time the Dreamgirls opportunity rolled around, I learned from that experience. Allowing people to interrupt my faith? No, no. That’s what went wrong the last time! [Instead I said] I’m ready God, I believe it, I accept it. I’m not concerned with what [anyone else] got to say and [they] will not interrupt my faith. Don’t allow someone to interrupt your faith. I want to leave it with that.
But perhaps in no other time in American history did popular music more clearly reflect the political and cultural moment than the soundtrack of the 1960s – one that exemplified a new and overt social consciousness.
That decade, a palpable energy slowly burned and intensified through a succession of events: the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War.
By the mid-1960s, frustration about the slow pace of change began to percolate with riots in multiple cities. Then, in 1968, two awful events occurred within months of each other: the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy.
At the same time, virtually everyone in the African-American community was directly connected in some way or another to the civil rights movement.
Every year, I revisit this era in an undergraduate class I teach on music, civil rights and the Supreme Court. With this perspective as a backdrop, here are five songs, followed by a playlist that I share with my students.
While they offer a window into the awakening and reckoning of the times, the tracks have assumed a renewed relevance and resonance today.
First made a hit by the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary, the song signaled a new consciousness and became the most covered of all Dylan songs.
The song asks a series of questions that appeal to the listener’s moral compass, while the timeless imagery of the lyrics – cannonballs, doves, death, the sky – evoke a longing for peace and freedom that spoke to the era.
“There are songs that are more written by their times than by any individual in that time, a song that the times seem to call for, a song that is just gonna be a perfect strike rolled right down the middle of the lane, and the lane has already been grooved for the strike.”
During a 1963 tour in the South, Cooke and his band were refused lodging at a hotel in Shreveport, Louisiana.
African Americans routinely faced segregation and prejudice in the Jim Crow South, but this particular experience shook Cooke.
So he put pen to paper and tackled a subject that represented a departure for Cooke, a crossover artist who made his name with a series of Top 40 hits.
The lyrics reflect the anguish of being an extraordinary pop headliner who nonetheless needs to go through a side door.
Showcasing Cooke’s gospel roots, it’s a song that painfully and beautifully captures the edge between hope and despair.
“It’s been a long, a long time coming,” he croons. “But I know a change is gonna come.”
Sam Cooke, in composing “A Change is Gonna Come,” was also inspired by Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind”: According to Cooke’s biographer, upon hearing Dylan’s song, Cooke “was almost ashamed to have not written something like that himself.”
The Supremes were the Motown act with arguably the broadest appeal, and they paved the way for other black artists to enjoy creative success as mainstream acts.
Through their 20 top-10 hits and 17 appearances from 1964 to 1969 on CBS’ popular weekly live program “The Ed Sullivan Show,” the group had a regular presence in the living rooms of black and white families across the country.
“It was the need of a nation, the need of the average man and woman in the street, the businessman, the mother, the fireman, the teacher – everyone wanted respect. It was also one of the battle cries of the civil rights movement. The song took on monumental significance.”
Of course, these five songs can’t possibly do the decade’s music justice.
Louis Farrakhan, from left, Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. Jesse Jackson and former President Bill Clinton attend the funeral service for Aretha Franklin at Greater Grace Temple, Friday, Aug. 31, 2018, in Detroit. Franklin died Aug. 16, 2018 of pancreatic cancer at the age of 76. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Former presidents and preachers joined a parade of music stars and other speakers Friday in a singing, hip-swaying, piano-pounding farewell to Aretha Franklin, remembering the Queen of Soul as a powerful force for musical and political change and a steadfast friend and family member.
“Aretha’s singing challenged the dangling discords of hate and lies and racism and injustice,” the pastor William J. Barber II said. “Her singing was revelation and was revolution.”
In a send-off both grand and personal, a celebrity lineup of mourners filled the same Detroit church that hosted Rosa Parks’ funeral and offered prayers, songs and dozens of tributes. Guests included former President Bill Clinton, former first lady Hillary Clinton, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson.
Robinson, the Motown great, remembered first hearing Franklin play piano when he was just 8 and remained close to her for the rest of her life. They talked for hours at a time.
“You’re so special,” he said, before crooning a few lines from his song “Really Gonna Miss You,” with the line “really gonna be different without you.”
Bill Clinton described himself as an Aretha Franklin “groupie,” saying he had loved her since college. He traced her life’s journey, praising her as someone who “lived with courage, not without fear, but overcoming her fears.”
He remembered attending her last public performance, at Elton John’s AIDS Foundation benefit in November in New York. She looked “desperately ill” but managed to greet him by standing and saying, “How you doing, baby?”
Her career, Clinton noted, spanned from vinyl records to cellphones. He held the microphone near his iPhone and played a snippet of Franklin’s classic “Think,” the audience clapping along.
“It’s the key to freedom!” Clinton said.
Lasting more than six hours, the service at Greater Grace Temple encompassed many elements, emotions and regal entrances that were hallmarks of Franklin’s more than six decades on sacred and secular stages. She was remembered as the pride of Detroit and a citizen of the world.
Actress Cicely Tyson reworked the Paul Laurence Dunbar poem “When Malindy Sings” to “When Aretha Sings.” Music mogul Clive Davis, who helped revive Franklin’s career in the 1980s, described her as a loving friend and a dedicated and unpredictable artist, whose passions ranged from soul to ballet. He remembered her turning up at a tribute to him in a tutu.
“There was the Queen of Soul, accompanied by members of the City Center Ballet Company,” he recalled, with Franklin “doing well-rehearsed pirouettes and dancing with most impressive agility and dignity. It was wonderful.”
Jennifer Hudson, whom Franklin said she wanted to play her in a movie about her life, brought the crowd to its feet with a rousing “Amazing Grace.” Ariana Grande sang one of the Queen’s biggest hits, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” and Faith Hill performed “What a Friend We Have In Jesus.”
The Aretha Franklin Orchestra opened the funeral with a medley featuring “I Say a Little Prayer,” ”Angel” and other songs she was known for, along with such gospel numbers as “I Love the Lord” and “Walk in the Light.”
A statement from former President George W. Bush that was read to the crowd said Franklin would “continue to bring joy to millions for generations to come.” The Rev. Al Sharpton read a statement from former President Barack Obama, who wrote that Franklin’s “work reflected the very best of the American story.”
Sharpton received loud cheers when he denounced President Donald Trump for saying that the singer “worked for” him as he responded to her death. “She performed for you,” Sharpton said of Franklin, who had sung at Trump-owned venues. “She worked for us.”
“She gave us pride. She gave us a regal bar to reach. She represented the best in our community,” Sharpton said.
Many noted her longtime commitment to civil rights and lasting concern for the poor. The Rev. Jesse Jackson urged attendees to honor her memory and register to vote. Her friend Greg Mathis, the reality show host and retired Michigan judge, recalled his last conversation with her. They talked about the tainted water supply in Flint. “You go up there and sock it to ’em,” she urged Mathis, paraphrasing the “sock it to me” refrain from “Respect.”
Franklin died Aug. 16 at age 76.
Her body arrived in a 1940 Cadillac LaSalle hearse. She wore a shimmering gold dress, with sequined heels — the fourth outfit Franklin was clothed in during a week of events leading up to her funeral.
The casket was carried to the church that also sent Franklin’s father, the renowned minister C.L. Franklin, to his and Parks’ final resting place at Woodlawn Cemetery, where the singer will join them. Pink Cadillacs filled the street outside the church, a reference to a Franklin hit from the 1980s, “Freeway of Love.”
Program covers showed a young Franklin, with a slight smile and sunglasses perched on her nose, and the caption “A Celebration Fit For The Queen.”
Detroit plans to honor one of its most famous residents. Mayor Mike Duggan announced during the service that the city would rename the riverfront amphitheater Chene Park to “Aretha Franklin Park.”
Family members, among them granddaughter Victorie Franklin and niece Cristal Franklin, spoke with awe and affection as they remembered a world-famous performer who also loved gossip and kept pictures of loved ones on her piano.
Grandson Jordan directed his remarks directly to Franklin, frequently stopping to fight back tears.
“I’m sad today, because I’m losing my friend. But I know the imprint she left on this world can never be removed. You showed the world God’s love, and there’s nothing more honorable.”
Mourners began pouring into Detroit’s Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History on Tuesday to pay their final respects to Aretha Franklin.
They approached her gold-plated casket to the sounds of her gospel recordings. She was in repose, dressed in red from head to high-heeled shoes, legs crossed at the ankles.
As they approached, people who came from as far away as Las Vegas and Miami cried, crossed themselves, bowed their heads or blew kisses.
Museum board member Kelly Major Green said the goal was to create a dignified and respectful environment akin to a church, the place where Franklin got her start.
“What we wanted to do is be reflective of the Queen,” Green said. “It’s beautiful. She’s beautiful.”
Aretha Franklin lies in her casket at Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History during a public visitation in Detroit, Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018. Franklin died Aug. 16, of pancreatic cancer at the age of 76. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, Pool)
With her legs crossed at the ankles, Green said Franklin communicates both power and comfort, as she did in life.
The shoes, in particular, show “The Queen of Soul is diva to the end,” Green said.
Tammy Gibson, 49, of Chicago said she arrived about 5:30 a.m. She came alone but made fast friends with others who sang and reminisced.
Growing up, Gibson said she heard Franklin’s music “playing all the time” by her parents, who “told me to go to bed — it’s an adult party.”
Outside the museum, she said: “I know people are sad, but it’s just celebrating — people dancing and singing her music.”
Franklin has been a constant in her life.
“I saw the gold-plated casket — it dawned on me: She’s gone, but her legacy and her music will live on forever.”
The setting for the two days of public viewings could not be more fitting, according to Paula Marie Seniors, an associate professor of Africana studies at Virginia Tech.
“I think it’s incredibly significant — she is being honored almost like a queen at one of the most important black museums in the United States,” said Seniors, who visited the museum several years ago when she was in Detroit doing research.
The Queen of Soul, Seniors said, was “a singer of the universe.” Yet she added that Franklin, who died Aug. 16 of pancreatic cancer at the age of 76, also was “so unapologetically black — she was so proud of being a black woman.”
To be sure, Franklin did not consider herself a catalyst for the women’s movement or on the front lines of the fight for civil rights. But she represented and pushed for both in ways big and small — none, perhaps, more prominently or simultaneously as her mold-breaking take on the Otis Redding song, “Respect.” She later said that with her interpretation — which even Redding acknowledged became the standard — sought to convey a message about the need to respect women, people of color, children and all people.
The museum, which had been the largest black museum in the U.S. until the National Museum of African American History and Culture opened in Washington, D.C., in 2016, also hosted similar viewings for civil rights icon Rosa Parks after her 2005 death. In further symbolic symmetry, Franklin sang at Parks’ funeral, which was held at the same Detroit church as Franklin’s, and the singer will be entombed in the same cemetery as Parks.
The women came to their activism from different places and used different techniques, but “in the long run, they were both fighting for the same cause, which is freedom,” Seniors said.
Seniors said if she could attend the viewings, she would bring her 8-year-old daughter, Shakeila, who has sung along with Franklin’s videos.
“I want my daughter to know anything and everything about African-American culture and history,” said Seniors, whose father, Clarence Henry Seniors, was roommates at Morehouse College with Franklin’s brother, Cecil. “I would want my daughter to know of the people like Aretha Franklin — to be able to listen to that voice … and hear that there is something special about it.”
Aretha Franklin, the undisputed “Queen of Soul” who sang with matchless style on such classics as “Think,” ”I Say a Little Prayer” and her signature song, “Respect,” and stood as a cultural icon around the globe, has died at age 76 from pancreatic cancer.
Publicist Gwendolyn Quinn tells The Associated Press through a family statement that Franklin died Thursday at 9:50 a.m. at her home in Detroit. The statement said “Franklin’s official cause of death was due to advanced pancreatic cancer of the neuroendocrine type, which was confirmed by Franklin’s oncologist, Dr. Philip Phillips of Karmanos Cancer Institute” in Detroit.
The family added: “In one of the darkest moments of our lives, we are not able to find the appropriate words to express the pain in our heart. We have lost the matriarch and rock of our family. The love she had for her children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and cousins knew no bounds.”
The statement continued:
“We have been deeply touched by the incredible outpouring of love and support we have received from close friends, supporters and fans all around the world. Thank you for your compassion and prayers. We have felt your love for Aretha and it brings us comfort to know that her legacy will live on. As we grieve, we ask that you respect our privacy during this difficult time.”
Funeral arrangements will be announced in the coming days.
Franklin, who had battled undisclosed health issues in recent years, had in 2017 announced her retirement from touring.
A professional singer and accomplished pianist by her late teens, a superstar by her mid-20s, Franklin had long ago settled any arguments over who was the greatest popular vocalist of her time. Her gifts, natural and acquired, were a multi-octave mezzo-soprano, gospel passion and training worthy of a preacher’s daughter, taste sophisticated and eccentric, and the courage to channel private pain into liberating song.
She recorded hundreds of tracks and had dozens of hits over the span of a half century, including 20 that reached No. 1 on the R&B charts. But her reputation was defined by an extraordinary run of top 10 smashes in the late 1960s, from the morning-after bliss of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” to the wised-up “Chain of Fools” to her unstoppable call for “Respect.”
Her records sold millions of copies and the music industry couldn’t honor her enough. Franklin won 18 Grammy awards. In 1987, she became the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Clive Davis, the music mogul who brought her to Arista Records and helped revive her career in the 1980s, said he was “devastated” by her death.
“She was truly one of a kind. She was more than the Queen of Soul. She was a national treasure to be cherished by every generation throughout the world,” he said in a statement. “Apart from our long professional relationship, Aretha was my friend. Her loss is deeply profound and my heart is full of sadness.”
Fellow singers bowed to her eminence and political and civic leaders treated her as a peer. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was a longtime friend, and she sang at the dedication of King’s memorial, in 2011. She performed at the inaugurations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, and at the funeral for civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks. Clinton gave Franklin the National Medal of Arts. President George W. Bush awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in 2005.
Washington, DC – January 20, 2009 — Aretha Franklin performs at the the 56th Presidential Inauguration ceremony for Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States in Washington, DC. Credit: Pat Benic – Pool via CNP /MediaPunch /IPX
Franklin’s best-known appearance with a president was in January 2009, when she sang “My Country ’tis of Thee” at Barack Obama’s inauguration. She wore a gray felt hat with a huge, Swarovski rhinestone-bordered bow that became an Internet sensation and even had its own website. In 2015, she brought Obama and others to tears with a triumphant performance of “Natural Woman” at a Kennedy Center tribute to the song’s co-writer, Carole King.
Franklin endured the exhausting grind of celebrity and personal troubles dating back to childhood. She was married from 1961 to 1969 to her manager, Ted White, and their battles are widely believed to have inspired her performances on several songs, including “(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone,” ”Think” and her heartbreaking ballad of despair, “Ain’t No Way.” The mother of two sons by age 16 (she later had two more), she was often in turmoil as she struggled with her weight, family problems and financial predicaments. Her best known producer, Jerry Wexler, nicknamed her “Our Lady of Mysterious Sorrows.”
Franklin married actor Glynn Turman in 1978 in Los Angeles but returned to her hometown of Detroit the following year after her father was shot by burglars and left semi-comatose until his death in 1984. She and Turman divorced that year.
Despite growing up in Detroit, and having Smokey Robinson as a childhood friend, Franklin never recorded for Motown Records; stints with Columbia and Arista were sandwiched around her prime years with Atlantic Records. But it was at Detroit’s New Bethel Baptist Church, where her father was pastor, that Franklin learned the gospel fundamentals that would make her a soul institution.
Aretha Louise Franklin was born March 25, 1942, in Memphis, Tennessee. The Rev. C.L. Franklin soon moved his family to Buffalo, New York, then to Detroit, where the Franklins settled after the marriage of Aretha’s parents collapsed and her mother (and reputed sound-alike) Barbara returned to Buffalo.
C.L. Franklin was among the most prominent Baptist ministers of his time. He recorded dozens of albums of sermons and music and knew such gospel stars as Marion Williams and Clara Ward, who mentored Aretha and her sisters Carolyn and Erma. (Both sisters sang on Aretha’s records, and Carolyn also wrote “Ain’t No Way” and other songs for Aretha). Music was the family business and performers from Sam Cooke to Lou Rawls were guests at the Franklin house. In the living room, the shy young Aretha awed friends with her playing on the grand piano.
Franklin occasionally performed at New Bethel Baptist throughout her career; her 1987 gospel album “One Lord One Faith One Baptism” was recorded live at the church.
Her most acclaimed gospel recording came in 1972 with the Grammy-winning album “Amazing Grace,” which was recorded live at New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in South Central Los Angeles and featured gospel legend James Cleveland, along with her own father (Mick Jagger was one of the celebrities in the audience). It became one of of the best-selling gospel albums ever.
The piano she began learning at age 8 became a jazzy component of much of her work, including arranging as well as songwriting. “If I’m writing and I’m producing and singing, too, you get more of me that way, rather than having four or five different people working on one song,” Franklin told The Detroit News in 2003.
Franklin was in her early teens when she began touring with her father, and she released a gospel album in 1956 through J-V-B Records. Four years later, she signed with Columbia Records producer John Hammond, who called Franklin the most exciting singer he had heard since a vocalist he promoted decades earlier, Billie Holiday. Franklin knew Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. and considered joining his label, but decided it was just a local company at the time.
Franklin recorded several albums for Columbia Records over the next six years. She had a handful of minor hits, including “Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody” and “Runnin’ Out of Fools,” but never quite caught on as the label tried to fit into her a variety of styles, from jazz and show songs to such pop numbers as “Mockingbird.” Franklin jumped to Atlantic Records when her contract ran out, in 1966.
“But the years at Columbia also taught her several important things,” critic Russell Gersten later wrote. “She worked hard at controlling and modulating her phrasing, giving her a discipline that most other soul singers lacked. She also developed a versatility with mainstream music that gave her later albums a breadth that was lacking on Motown LPs from the same period.
“Most important, she learned what she didn’t like: to do what she was told to do.”
At Atlantic, Wexler teamed her with veteran R&B musicians from Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, and the result was a tougher, soulful sound, with call-and-response vocals and Franklin’s gospel-style piano, which anchored “I Say a Little Prayer,” ”Natural Woman” and others.
Of Franklin’s dozens of hits, none was linked more firmly to her than the funky, horn-led march “Respect” and its spelled out demand for “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.”
Writing in Rolling Stone magazine in 2004, Wexler said: “It was an appeal for dignity combined with a blatant lubricity. There are songs that are a call to action. There are love songs. There are sex songs. But it’s hard to think of another song where all those elements are combined.”
Franklin had decided she wanted to “embellish” the R&B song written by Otis Redding, whose version had been a modest hit in 1965, Wexler said.
“When she walked into the studio, it was already worked out in her head,” the producer wrote. “Otis came up to my office right before ‘Respect’ was released, and I played him the tape. He said, ‘She done took my song.’ He said it benignly and ruefully. He knew the identity of the song was slipping away from him to her.”
In a 2004 interview with the St. Petersburg (Florida) Times, Franklin was asked whether she sensed in the ’60s that she was helping change popular music.
The American blues and soul singer Aretha Franklin during recordings for a TV show in a Cologne studio, pictured on 13th May 1968.
“Somewhat, certainly with ‘Respect,’ that was a battle cry for freedom and many people of many ethnicities took pride in that word,” she answered. “It was meaningful to all of us.”
In 1968, Franklin was pictured on the cover of Time magazine and had more than 10 Top 20 hits in 1967 and 1968. At a time of rebellion and division, Franklin’s records were a musical union of the church and the secular, man and woman, black and white, North and South, East and West. They were produced and engineered by New Yorkers Wexler and Tom Dowd, arranged by Turkish-born Arif Mardin and backed by an interracial assembly of top session musicians based mostly in Alabama.
Her popularity faded during the 1970s despite such hits as the funky “Rock Steady” and such acclaimed albums as the intimate “Spirit in the Dark.” But her career was revived in 1980 with a cameo appearance in the smash movie “The Blues Brothers” and her switch to Arista Records. Franklin collaborated with such pop and soul artists as Luther Vandross, Elton John, Whitney Houston and George Michael, with whom she recorded a No. 1 single, “I Knew You Were Waiting (for Me).” Her 1985 album “Who’s Zoomin’ Who” received some of her best reviews and included such hits as the title track and “Freeway of Love.”
Critics consistently praised Franklin’s singing but sometimes questioned her material; she covered songs by Stephen Sondheim, Bread, the Doobie Brothers. For Aretha, anything she performed was “soul.”
From her earliest recording sessions at Columbia, when she asked to sing “Over the Rainbow,” she defied category. The 1998 Grammys gave her a chance to demonstrate her range. Franklin performed “Respect,” then, with only a few minutes’ notice, filled in for an ailing Luciano Pavarotti and drew rave reviews for her rendition of “Nessun Dorma,” a stirring aria for tenors from Puccini’s “Turandot.”
“I’m sure many people were surprised, but I’m not there to prove anything,” Franklin told The Associated Press. “Not necessary.”
Fame never eclipsed Franklin’s charitable works, or her loyalty to Detroit.
Franklin sang the national anthem at Super Bowl in her hometown in 2006, after grousing that Detroit’s rich musical legacy was being snubbed when the Rolling Stones were chosen as halftime performers.
“I didn’t think there was enough (Detroit representation) by any means,” she said. “And it was my feeling, ‘How dare you come to Detroit, a city of legends — musical legends, plural — and not ask one or two of them to participate?’ That’s not the way it should be.”
Franklin did most of her extensive touring by bus after Redding’s death in a 1967 plane crash, and a rough flight to Detroit in 1982 left her with a fear of flying that anti-anxiety tapes and classes couldn’t help. She told Time in 1998 that the custom bus was a comfortable alternative: “You can pull over, go to Red Lobster. You can’t pull over at 35,000 feet.”
She only released a few albums over the past two decades, including “A Rose is Still a Rose,” which featured songs by Sean “Diddy” Combs, Lauryn Hill and other contemporary artists, and “So Damn Happy,” for which Franklin wrote the gratified title ballad. Franklin’s autobiography, “Aretha: From These Roots,” came out in 1999, when she was in her 50s. But she always made it clear that her story would continue.
“Music is my thing, it’s who I am. I’m in it for the long run,” she told The Associated Press in 2008. “I’ll be around, singing, ‘What you want, baby I got it.’ Having fun all the way.”
HOLLYWOOD, FL – MARCH 16 : Aretha Franklin performs at Hard Rock live held at the Seminole Hard Rock hotel and casino on March 16, 2010 in Hollywood Florida Credit: MPI04 / MediaPunch /IPX