Aretha Franklin and her fight for RESPECT – 30/06/2020

The song “Respect” won Aretha Franklin two Grammys in 1967, and put her in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. What else has this iconic song achieved?

“Respect” was first recorded by Otis Redding as a plea. It was transformed into the soulful song we know and love when Aretha Franklin added backing vocals and the infamous “sock it to me” line. The passion that is connoted through Franklin’s soulful rendition emphasises how the Civil Rights Movement and its protests were unapologetic and full of strength. Over 50 years later, Aretha Franklin’s voice still resonates immense strength to her listeners.

Aretha Franklin recorded her version of the song on Valentine’s Day, 1967. It seems fitting that Franklin chose a day that symbolises love to demand love and respect from others through song. Franklin converted the meaning behind the song from a plea from a despairing man, into an anthem calling for civil rights. Franklin enthused the nation with her passion and confidence, the upbeat soulful vibe of the track has the power to inspire and cheer on those who listen to it. Whether you’re listening to it at a soul-themed club night, writing your essays to the track or using the beat to motivate you whilst you run, Franklin’s message inspires and connects its every listener. No wonder it has been used to rally protesters on their journeys to secure rights and social autonomy.

The repetition of the line “a little respect”, particularly the use of “little”, emphasises how those demanding civil rights were not respected by institutions, nor given political or social autonomy. The use of ‘little’ highlights the need for progression, even if it is small.

Franklin’s spelling out the word “respect” really outlines how respect is fundamental in political movements. This message is passionately displayed, and it resonates with all political movements and protests, hence its popularity within the civil rights movement and the second wave of feminism. The song is clever in the way it implies the listener is childish as they fail to recognise the weight behind the word. Spelling out the word “respect” implies that the listener does not understand the protestor’s call for respect (and consequent autonomy and rights), so needs the word to be spelled out in order to fully comprehend what the movement is asking for.

Aretha Franklin personalized the song, adding in backing vocals to make the track original. David Ritz argues that “her version is so deep and so filled with angst [and] determination”. It is clear that Franklin’s passionate rendition of the song made the track so iconic. Her tenacity and soul made “Respect” into an anthem.

So, to answer the earlier question of, “what else did the song achieve?” Well, it enabled the Civil Rights Movement and the feminist movement in the 1960’s to unite and demand recognition. The song did not start out as a call of rights and autonomy, but it is still used as a tool to help break down oppressive structures in modern day society. The song has recently become a symbol of the #MeToo Movement, emphasising that the song’s reach is universal and everlasting. It has given many people hope, passion and fire. It is an undeniable anthem.

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