If you grew up a lover of soul music, you know that today, Aug. 16, 2018, is a day to honor the memory of the undisputed Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, who died on Thursday at age 76 of pancreatic cancer.
For those of us who will be playing her music for the remainder of the day (or month), we know there are countless hits and lesser-known gems recorded throughout the Queen’s more than six-decade career. But when we think of women’s empowerment anthems, Franklin’s 1967 rendition of “Respect”—the song perhaps most readily identified with the icon—is inevitably at the top of the list.
Just as the second wave of feminism was taking hold (often excluding women of color), Aretha was using her multi-octave range to urge her listeners to “find out what it means” to show a respect for a woman. But ironically, the rallying cry for women everywhere was initially written and recorded by Franklin’s good friend, the legendary Otis Redding, whose version, though almost lyrically identical, understandably had a very different tone than Franklin’s.
Redding, who made the song an R&B hit in 1965, would later joke that Franklin “took the song away” from him—and indeed she did, rearranging it into a crossover smash, and one of several hit singles on her breakthrough album, I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You. In 2016, Franklin recounted to Elle how she’d first heard Redding’s performance, the inspiration behind her famous reinterpretation, and the origin of some of the song’s most famous motifs:
I had just moved out of my father’s home and had my own little apartment. I was cleaning the place, and I had a good radio station on. I loved it. I loved it! I felt I could do something different with it, and my sister Carolyn, who was an RCA recording artist, and I got together on the background ... The term “Sock it to me!” was a big, big thing in our neighborhood—all the kids were saying it.
The acronym “TCB”—or “taking care of business” was another popular catchphrase, but easily the most iconic portion of the song is when Franklin literally spells it out for us.
“R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me ...”
I doubt any of us can calculate how many times Franklin belted out that refrain during her lifetime. But when we think about her life and the incredible legacy and catalog of music she leaves behind, there’s admittedly one word that comes to mind first: