'Respect' for the Queen of Soul

Aretha Franklin.
By Donald Spivey

Aretha Franklin.

'Respect' for the Queen of Soul

By Donald Spivey
Aretha Franklin and her music defined “what is soul” to generations of music lovers.

August 16, 2018 is a date that will live in sadness.

On this day, early in the morning, The Queen of Soul passed away. She had been battling health challenges for many years and pancreatic cancer in the final few. Born Aretha Louise Franklin on March 25, 1942, in Memphis, Tennessee, her family migrated to Detroit when she was a little girl and where she came of age. Playing piano and singing the gospel in the Baptist church of which her father was pastor is how Franklin began her climb to national and international stardom, and to the throne of The Queen of Soul. 

Of her many hit tunes none compare to “Respect.” Otis Redding wrote and recorded the song in 1965, but it was Franklin’s rendition two years later that became the mega hit. The tune, and her fiery, soulful iteration of it became the moniker of the tumultuous 1960s.

Whether you were on the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement or taking a respite from the front lines in Vietnam, Franklin’s “Respect” invigorated, refreshed, and emboldened: “All I’m askin’ is for a little respect when you come home.”

In the musical finale of the “The Sixties” course in the College of Arts and Sciences, the R&B ensemble always performs “Respect” to the delight of students, faculty, and visitors. You have to perform that tune; it captures the essence of the era. 

For those of us who came of age during the 1960s, we can confirm that with Franklin’s “Respect” on the turntable and set to continuous play, you could make folks dance until they dropped. Her dynamic voice and the pulsating rhythms reached deep into your soul and took control of your feet, legs, arms and hands. You had to get up and dance, if you had any soul. No matter how many times you played it, and how exhausted the dancers, they rose to their feet to boogie some more. 

The Queen of Soul may be gone now but she will never leave us. We will always have: “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Loved You,” “Think,” “Call Me,” “I Say a Little Prayer for You,” “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman,” “Chain of Fools,” and many, many others that will be with us for eternity. 

If you are ever asked the perplexing and vexing question: “What is soul?” or “How do you define soul?” Just answer: “Aretha Franklin.”

Donald Spivey is a distinguished professor of history in the University of Miami College of Arts and Sciences. His field is late nineteenth- and twentieth-century America, with specialization in African-American history, sport, labor, music, and education. His team-taught course on “The Sixties” is one of the most popular courses at the University, offered every two years.