On June 3, 1967, Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” Hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Fiercely asserting her self-worth as an African-American woman, “Respect” is still the ultimate “girl power” song. The Queen of Soul’s signature song still encapsulates the key to any healthy relationship: R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
Aretha Louise Franklin was born on March 25, 1942, in Memphis, TN. Her parents were both gospel singers and her father was also a reverend. The family moved to Detroit, MI when Franklin was five years old. Franklin and her four siblings grew up singing in their father’s Detroit church. Considered a musical prodigy, she released her first album, “Songs of Faith,” in 1956 and started traveling in her father’s revival show with artists such as Sam Cooke.
Through the first half of the 1960s, Franklin had moderate success as a recording artist. However, her cover of Otis Redding’s “Respect” became her breakthrough hit, propelling her to superstardom. Just as the civil rights and women’s liberation movements were taking America by storm, Franklin’s gender-role-bending remake blew apart the original song’s message. Redding had written and recorded the original version of the song, which was initially about a hard-working man asking that his wife respect him after a long day on the job. The traditional message was replaced with Franklin’s strong female voice. She is now the breadwinner demanding the respect she knows she deserves from her man.
Aside from flipping the perspective in her version of “Respect,” Franklin added spelling out “R-E-S-P-E-C-T,” and included backup singers to sing the catchy refrain “Sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me.” The saying was a popular phrase that girls would call out to neighborhood guys in Franklin’s hometown of Detroit. In an interview with “Fresh Air,” Franklin explained, “It’s not sexual. It was nonsexual, just a cliché line.”
The raw passion in Franklin’s song delivery most likely reflected her own personal experiences at the time. In the midst of a tumultuous marriage, Franklin was asserting her strength as she laid down the track. “Respect” became 1967’s No. 1 song, won two Grammy Awards in 1968. Rolling Stone Magazine ranked it at No. 5 on their list of “The Greatest Songs of All Time.”
From 1968 to 1975, Franklin took home eight consecutive Grammy Awards for Best R&B Vocal Performance, starting with “Respect” (1968) and ending with “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing” (1975). Franklin became the first woman to be inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1987.
Franklin has continued to put out hit records and wow crowds with her riveting performances. Additionally, in 2005 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and then became the second woman ever to be inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame. Although Franklin announced her retirement in 2017, she plans on opening up a nightclub in her hometown of Detroit!