When Aretha Franklin sang “Respect,” “It was a demand for equality and freedom and a harbinger of feminism, carried by a voice that would accept nothing less,” writes the New York Times. We agree.
Born in Memphis to a preacher and raised singing gospel in New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Franklin had a “both/and” life, experiencing hardship alongside success. Her parents separated when she was six, and her mother died just a few years later.
Things didn’t get any easier. Franklin had two children by the age of 15, married at 19 a man who managed and physically abused her, and struggled with alcohol and marijuana for a time as an adult. In the 1980s, she lost her father, her brother, and a sister.
But alongside the pain (some say as a result of it), she experienced lasting success and fame. Songs like “Respect,” “Think,” “Chain of Fools,” “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing,” and “Freeway of Love” are included in many of our personal soundtracks of life.
She received far too many awards to list, but they include induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1987), a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (1994) and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2005). Beyond her professional achievement, she was deeply committed to and engaged with her community. And Aretha set an example in owning her own body and appearance, embodying self-worth and self-love.
Like the rest of us, Franklin was human—not perfect. She jealously guarded her “queen of soul” title and could be difficult to deal with. And she was a strong women who sang powerfully and, in so doing, inspired others to respect themselves and demand that others do the same.