The death of Aretha Franklin is sparking reflection on her two-time Grammy-winning song, “Respect,” which arguably catapulted the singer to the title of “Queen of Soul.”
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Since its 1967 release, fans have belted the catchy hook “R-E-S-P-E-C-T,” with it’s meaning varying to all who love the soul classic.
The song was originally written by American recording artist Otis Redding in 1965, but later became a number one hit and signature song for Franklin, who added flavor with visceral improvisations like “sock it to me…”.
If she didn’t live it, she couldn’t give it.
“For Otis, respect had the traditional connotation, the more abstract meaning of esteem,” Franklin’s producer, Jerry Wexler, said in his autobiography, “Rhythm and the Blues: A Life in American Music,” according to Rolling Stone magazine. “The fervor in Aretha’s voice demanded that respect…”
Wexler went on, “If she didn’t live it, she couldn’t give it.” But, he added, “Aretha would never play the part of the scorned woman….Her middle name was Respect.”
But “Respect” and Franklin also became a symbol to civil rights and the women’s movement.
Franklin was part of the civil rights movement of the sixties and met civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. She sang at events with Dr. King and when he was assassinated in 1968, she performed “Take My Hand” and “Precious Lord” at his funeral.
In 2009, Franklin sang “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” at the inauguration of Barack Obama as the nation swore in its first black president.
In 2014 during a tribute to Women of Soul at the White House, Obama spoke of the impact behind Franklin’s song “Respect.”
“She had no idea it [“Respect”] would become a rallying cry for African Americans and women and anyone else who felt marginalized because of what they looked like, who they loved,” Obama said. “They wanted some respect.”
Veteran music journalist Alan Light told ABC Radio, “The impact that songs like ‘Respect’ and ‘Think’ had on a generation of women, a generation of African Americans, a whole community the way that those songs became anthemic and became watch words above and beyond their literal meaning, that just has to do with what it was she was able to put across in those groves.”
The tune was just one of many of Franklin’s countless hits, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” “Chain of Fools,” “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” and “Think” are on the list with “Daydreaming” and “I Say a Little Prayer.”
In a 2016 interview with Vogue, Franklin explained how “Respect” resonated with all who listened.
“It’s important for people,” she told the magazine. “Not just me or the civil rights movement or women—it’s important to people. And I was asked what recording of mine I’d put in a time capsule, and it is ‘Respect.’ Because people want respect—even small children, even babies. As people, we deserve respect from one another,” she added.
ABC’s Andrea Dresdale and Michael Rothman contributed to this report.