Aretha Franklin, the queen of soul passed away at the age of 76. Franklin’s family reported the queen of soul had been ill suffering from pancreatic cancer since 2010 at her residence in Riverfront Towers Detroit. Although she announced her retirement last February, Franklin has been performing across the country, her last performance being at Elton John’s AIDS Gala in November alongside artists such as Lionel Richie and Miley Cyrus.
Franklin began her singing in her teenage years, performing in her father’s church. Her father, C.L. Franklin was a renowned preacher who participated heavily in the Civil Rights movement during the fifties and sixties. C.L. Franklin was a personal friend of Dr. Martin Luther King’s and C.L. aided King in the organization of the freedom march in Detroit. King even stayed at the Franklin residence during his stay in Detroit.
Franklin has a political history of her own. Growing up in the fifties, Franklin was surrounded by the feminist and civil rights movement whose influences make themselves known throughout her body of music.
In 1967 Franklin performed her own version of Otis Redding’s Respect. Franklin’s transformation of Redding’s masculine track to an anthem for change earned her long lasting recognition.
The song was released during the 1960’s amidst an era of division in the United States. The civil rights movement fought against racial segregation and for equal treatment of African Americans while women fought for equal opportunities between men and women.
Respect appealed strongly to women, and in particular women of color but Franklin states that she never had a target audience. The guardian reported that Franklin didn’t initially record Respect with political intentions. “It’s important for people. Not just me or the civil rights movement or women – it’s important to people” said Franklin.
Redding himself stated that after her performance of Respect he knew he had lost the song, it belonged to Franklin now.
Franklin’s version of Respect became a mainstream success garnering the attention of all, not only women and African Americans, but of the nation. Respect rose to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 and earned Franklin two Grammys in 1967 for Best Rhythm & Blues Recording and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance.
From her humble beginnings in her father’s church, to her performance of the Star-Spangled Banner, the queen of soul has been a driver of change. Franklin will forever be remembered as the queen of soul, but her contributions to the civil rights or equal opportunity for women.