(Respect 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. … The song took on monumental significance.
Aretha Franklin’s music is magic that makes a woman feel unstoppable, powerful and so beautiful. With my womanly body wiggling and voice soaring I feel visible: Franklin sees me.
I can’t think of a single woman who has not sung (or yelled) “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”, dancing boldly, waving fingers unapologetically with her sisters on the dance floor.
Every decade of womanhood has this song as her anthem.
On Valentine’s Day 1967 Franklin recorded “Respect” at just 24. It roared to No. 1 on the charts and stayed there for 12 weeks. “Respect” was surging while the Vietnam war was raging and black and brown people were resisting for racial justice.
Franklin was calling all of us to act in that single demand: R-E-S-P–E-C-T. Respect for people of colour, for women, for each other – for yourself. “Respect” soon became an anthem of the civil rights movement and symbolic of the black-power movement.
Aretha offers to pay Angela Davis’ bail
Franklin throughout her life showed commitment to the civil rights movement and to black women especially. In 1970 when political activist, revolutionary and feminist Angela Davis was arrested – Franklin vowed publicly to pay for her bail:
My Daddy says I don’t know what I‘m doing. Well, I respect him of course but I’m going to stick by my beliefs. Angela Davis must go free. Black people will be free. I’ve been locked up and I know you got to disturb the peace when you can’t get no peace. Jail is hell to be in. I’m going to see her free if there is any justice in our courts, not because I believe in Communism, but because she is a Black woman and she wants freedom for black people. I have the money; I got it from black people – they’ve made me financially able to have it – and I want to use it in ways that will help our people.
A Queen and a King
I asked my dad if it would be okay if I went (on the tour with King). He said if that’s what I wanted to do, he thought it would be okay, so I went out for a number of dates with Dr King.
Franklin was just a teenager when she began touring with Martin Luther King Jr. while he organised nonviolent resistance against the consistent murder and abuse of black and brown people in America. After King’s assassination in 1968, Franklin performed at his funeral.
A new generation
Franklin said goodbye to King and went on to welcome Barack Obama: A man whom may never have known presidency had it not been for the work of Aretha, Davis, King and the thousands of black and brown people fighting for racial justice.
American history wells up when Aretha sings…Nobody embodies more fully the connection between the African-American spiritual, the blues, R&B, rock and roll – the way that hardship and sorrow were transformed into something full of beauty and vitality and hope.
The Queen of Soul
Being the Queen is not all about singing and being a diva is not all about singing. It has much to do with your service to people. And your social contributions to your community and your civic contributions as well.
Franklin’s singing career started as a child, singing gospel music at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, where her father, C. L. Franklin, was a minister. With her rare, four-octave voice Franklin recorded her first album by the age of fourteen: The Gospel Sound of Aretha Franklin.
Being a singer is a natural gift. It means I’m using to the highest degree possible the gift that God gave me to use. I’m happy with that.
Franklin leaves this world as one of the most honoured artists by the Grammy Awards, the first woman to enter into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and a voice of recognition and justice for people of colour and women across the world. Today we have lost the Queen of Soul but her voice will never be forgotten.