When Aretha Franklin emerged on the Kennedy Center stage three years ago, resplendent in a fur coat, she took to the piano and began gently singing “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman.” By the end of the performance, she had shed the fur coat and stood at center stage, her powerful voice soaring.
Franklin’s presence and, yes, that magical, soulful, formidable voice, commanded attention and empowered generations of women to demand Respect with a capital R. Perhaps more than any other achievement, it was “Respect,” written by Otis Redding, that spoke to the legacy Franklin, who died Thursday at age 76, leaves behind. She took a song written by a man about his demand for a woman’s respect when he came home, and turned it into a glorious anthem for women’s rights, for civil rights, for the respect and equality she herself required. It was #MeToo decades before #MeToo. Recorded in 1967, it came at just the right time, becoming a historical marker for the nation’s attitudes at that moment — and for where we were headed.
Franklin followed “Respect” with the equally important “Think,” a show of strength and call for freedom. With every word, she left an indelible impact on other female artists, on generations of women and African-Americans, and on our nation. Even amid personal challenges and tragedy, she stood up for herself, and willed others to do the same. And as she found her voice, her place at center stage, there she stayed.
That’s worthy of respect. — The editorial board