Teaching Us R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

Aretha Franklin | Courtesy of Biography.com

She possessed one of the strongest and most memorable voices in the history of music.  She captivated her audiences, then and now. Her amazing talent and ability earned her the title: “Queen of Soul”.  She was a monumental figure in the music industry and a tremendous artist in gospel, soul, jazz, and beyond. She also helped to define the Civil Rights movement through her sustained activism. She was, of course, Aretha Franklin. From her early years to her very last days, Aretha Franklin lived a very public life of performance that gave her fame, and also brought some struggles with it.1 Nevertheless, Aretha carved out a place in history for herself beyond her music and energy, and beyond the millions of people she entertained and inspired, she fought for RESPECT and equal rights!

The “Queen of Soul” was born on March 25, 1942, in Memphis, Tennessee, and from the very beginning , she was thrust into a world of music.  Her father was the renowned Reverend C. L. Franklin, a Baptist minister known across the nation at the time. Her mother, Barbara Franklin, was a talented and well-known gospel singer and pianist.2  Reverend Franklin was heavily involved in the Civil Rights movement and was a close acquaintance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In fact, it was at Reverend Franklin’s church, New Bethel Baptist, where Dr. King Jr. gave his famous “I Have A Dream” speech at for the first time during the movement.3 Steeped in an environment of spirituality and soul music, the gifted Aretha Franklin became a musician and singer who commanded respect from very young age.  So much so that music is what we all know about her. She devoted her life to creating, writing, and performing which became an escape for her in troubled times.  Despite a father, famous for his sermons, a mother who was a brilliant musician, and her own incredible musical gift, life was not always easy for the Franklin family.

While only six years of age, Aretha Franklin’s mother and father separated. Her mother moved away from the family.  Four years later, her mother passed away.  This trying episode in her life has been said to have been one of many potential sources for the passion she displays while singing and engaging with her music.4  Aretha persevered and moved through this tragic time by launching herself into a gospel career.  She traveled the nation with her father and his gospel choir. She immersed herself in the music that became the foundation for the sound that launched her career and defined her legacy.  Ms. Franklin became more widely known with each performance she gave in her father’s gospel choir, which prompted her to make a change at the age of 18 to sing music that could appeal to a broader audience. At eighteen years old, she asked her father for his permission to cease singing in the gospel choir and ventured out into the world to launch a career in music that drifted away from religious music.5

Aretha Franklin in 1967 | Courtesy of Michael Ochs Archives and Getty Images.

So she moved to New York City and signed a contract with Columbia Records.6  During her time with Columbia Records, she produced much of the early work that garnered her praise from many and respect from all.  She released the album “Aretha: With the Ray Bryant Combo” which included songs that would place her on the Billboard Hot 100 and the Top 40 charts.  It was also during this time that she was first referred to as the “Queen of Soul”. Once her contract with Columbia Records expired, she moved on to Atlantic Records. She had begun to experiment with different genres of music including jazz and blues while with Columbia Records, but following her move to Atlantic, she returned to her soul roots and struck fame by incorporating elements of pop music into her work as well.7 It was with Atlantic Records that she forged her legacy and made sure that she would be remembered for all times, as one of the most influential singers in history.  So in 1967, she taught the world about respect.

Writer Anna North says of the hit song, that it was “emblematic of both” the feminist and the civil rights movement. 8  Released in 1967, “Respect” was Ms. Franklin’s take on a popular Otis Redding song, of the same name, created in 1965.  Initially, the song was sung from the point of view of a man demanding respect from his wife as he is the one who works all day and makes money for their living. It was a song that did nothing for feminism or equal rights, it was in fact a song that championed the idea of the man as the head of the household.  Since men were primarily the ones who worked for wages, it was a woman’s job to show him respect on his return home.  Despite Ms. Franklin’s version being released only three years after Otis Redding’s version, times had changed. More and more people were waking up to see the need for equality. Equality between races and equality between genders were no longer just a dream. It was a right.  She may have only covered the song, but she included certain additions to it that transformed it into the hit that we know today.  She included the spelling out of the word R.E.S.P.E.C.T., as well as adding back-up singers.9  Aretha Franklin wrote in her autobiography “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’s ramifications are felt today, and its popularity has not waned in the slightest. She taught us that we all deserved R.E.S.P.E.C.T!

It was no surprise that Aretha’s song  “Respect” carried so much meaning relevant to the fight for equal rights and became its emblem.  She had grown up during the 1960’s civil rights movement. Her father was close to Dr. King Jr. and when she was old enough, she began to support the movement in any way she could. Dr. King Jr. gave many of his famous speeches at her father’s church and held many rallies with Mr. Franklin. Aretha knew of the importance of the movement and she was not satisfied only to be a part of it, she took on a leadership role in it. She quickly became one of the greatest fundraisers within the movement and donated heavily to multiple organizations that supported Dr. King Jr.’s efforts in peacefully battling racism and segregation.10  She traveled the country with actors Henry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier using their celebrity status to build additional support and momentum for civil rights and equality.

Aretha Franklin and the Civil Rights Movement | Courtesy of Nilepost.com

Inch by inch, the movement gained ground in its effort to stem the tide of institutional racism that for so long had gripped the nation.  It was a movement championed by men and women that would go on to be remembered as some of the bravest individuals in American history, and among its ranks was Aretha Franklin. Their actions paved the way to the passage of the Civil Rights Act which gave minorities the protection of the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments in the Constitution.  July 2, 1964, became the first time since the inception of the nation that African-Americans had the legal right to vote and the enforceable right of equal protection under the law.11  The monumental passage of this act did not occur overnight. Blood was shed, lives were sacrificed, compromises were made. A part of this pivotal moment in our history was Aretha Franklin and her voice. She sang about respect, she used her passion and her soul to inspire entire audiences with her singing, and then she applied that passion and that drive into attaining equal rights. In August, the “Queen of Soul” still fighting for equality, passed away at the age of 76.

Aretha Franklin’s Homegoing Service | Courtesy of XYZ Detroit News

Aretha Franklin lived a life of fame and fortune and lived a life filled with struggles and heartbreak. Her mother was gone while she was still a little girl, her father was slain a couple of decades later in a home invasion in 1979.12  She raised four children, the first of which she had at the age of fifteen. Despite facing such turbulent times and surviving numerous setbacks, she channeled her pain from her personal struggles to overcoming the hardships and oppression fighting for equal rights. As she declared, the nation was crying out for a message they could rally around. The movement was clamoring for something to inspire them further, and Ms. Franklin gave it to them. She sang about respect and then showed us how to practice it by campaigning for the Civil Rights Movement.  The “Queen of Soul” reached a level of attainment that surpassed what most realized, and could be seen at her Homegoing Service that united thousands and was attended by giants of the music industry like Clive Davis, Civil Rights Leaders like Reverend Jesse Jackson, and many elected officials, including former President Bill Clinton.  Her message continues to ring forth from generation to generation, keeping her memory alive and inspiring millions. Aretha earned our R.E.S.P.E.C.T. and admiration because of how she used the gift of her powerful voice to fight for those who had no voice.

  1. Laura B. Randolph, “Aretha”, Ebony, April 1995, 30-32.
  2. Laura B. Randolph, “Aretha”, Ebony, April 1995, 30-32.
  3. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2018 s.v. “Aretha Franklin”, by David Ritz.
  4. Laura B. Randolph, “Aretha”, Ebony, April 1995, 30-32.
  5. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2018 s.v. “Aretha Franklin”, by David Ritz.
  6. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2018 s.v. “Aretha Franklin”, by David Ritz.
  7. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2018 s.v. “Aretha Franklin”, by David Ritz.
  8. Anna North, “The political and cultural impact of Aretha Franklin’s ‘Respect,’ explained”, Vox, August 17, 2018, https://www.vox.com/2018/8/17/17699170/aretha-franklin-2018-respect-song-otis-redding-feminism-civil-rights.
  9. Anna North, “The political and cultural impact of Aretha Franklin’s ‘Respect,’ explained”, Vox, August 17, 2018, https://www.vox.com/2018/8/17/17699170/aretha-franklin-2018-respect-song-otis-redding-feminism-civil-rights.
  10. Vann R. Newkirk II, “Aretha Franklin’s Revolution”, The Atlantic, August 16, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2018/08/aretha-franklins-revolution/567715/.
  11. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2018, s.v. “Civil Rights Act” by the editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, and United States, Civil Rights Act 1964, 78 U.S.C. § 241, Washington:U.S. Government Printing Office, 1969.
  12. Laura B. Randolph, “Aretha”, Ebony, April 1995, 30-32.

Tags from the story

Share this post

Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email

This Post Has 108 Comments

  1. an amazing article, i never thought that Aretha Franklin was a civil right activist i was thinking that she is only singer. she influenced so many people around the world by her talent in singing, but she also had an influence to people in civil rights, which really amaze me that singers usually do not care about anything but their music which is their job for making money, the article really inspired me. really well written.

  2. I loved the introduction of this article! She not only shared her talent with the world by singing but also was an iconic figure of the Civil Rights Movement. She was a strong believer that everyone deserves respect no matter the race or gender or age. Reading this article made me want to learn more about her personal story as well.

  3. The title said it all and made me want to sing every single time I see it. Honestly i never knew who sang this song, but I always loved it. I really loved how this article captured the perspective of Aretha Franklin. Music is a cope for a lot of us, but for her it was another level with her mother. Loved reading this article!

  4. Thomas Fraire

    This article concentrates more on the lady in Ted Bundy’s life which is great since I didn’t think a lot about them. I was aware of Stephanie yet not Megan. I never comprehended why individuals were so enchanted by Ted Bundy however he truly was a talented controller it appears and exceptionally savvy and realized how to motivate individuals to open up and trust him. It’s terrifying that he had the capacity to make a bogus picture of himself to pretty much everyone he knew to the point where despite everything we state we don’t have the foggiest idea who the ‘Genuine Ted Bundy’ is.

  5. I’m glad I read this because it was such an amazing article. I just love the way your story flow, it flow so well-written and kept me interested in reading more. I never knew the meaning of her song and I never knew she got the idea from a man who made a respect song about women needing to respect their men. She really change everything with her song Respect. I’m surprise to notice that her song was made during the time Dr. King Jr. was still alive doing the civil rights moment. I’m glad because that was another thing that help the civil rights movement along side with Dr. King.

  6. I watched her funeral and cried. I grew up listening to Aretha and Motown music so she had a big influence on me. I never looked into her life but it makes perfect sense that she was part of the Civil Rights movement. It is sad to learn that she had such a hard life because her music is filled with so much passion and love.

  7. This article was very interesting and informative. I actually don’t know anything about Aretha Franklin other than her name. So reading this article really taught me something. Also, I like how she turned to music to help her heal what happened with her mother, she used that pain to make her music have a lot more soul. The “Queen of Soul” is a really good name for her since she used everything that set her back as motivation to do better.

  8. Thomas Fraire

    Growing up tuning in to Aretha Franklin’s music I have dependably admired her so when I saw this article I needed to peruse! This article just brought back recollections and helped me to remember all the enormity she has done for an incredible duration. Aretha Franklin utilized her ground-breaking voice to make music as well as to engage ladies all things considered. This article did Aretha equity as it was very elegantly composed.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Close Menu