Aretha Franklin was a diva in the purest sense of the word: a woman of outstanding musical talent who wowed the world and undeniably earned her title as the Queen of Soul. She sang for Presidents, popes, and queens; won 18 Grammys; and recorded numerous top 10 singles. Rolling Stone ranked her No. 1 on its list of the “100 Greatest Singers of All Time,” and she was the first female performer to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
That’s an awful lot of potentially ego-inflating accolades. But throughout her career, Franklin remained uncommonly humble. In 1998, at the height of her fame, she told CBC-TV, “I'm not a star, I'm the lady next door,” a sentiment she often repeated. In the world of A-list celebrities and global superstars, she was about as real as it gets, which made her music all the more special.
When Franklin belted out “R-E-S-P-E-C-T,” the emotion was genuine. Her lived experience as a Black woman was just as important to her journey as her powerful voice and sublime piano playing. She brought her gospel roots into her soul music, and — despite never wishing to enter the realm of politics — she was an inspiration to the feminist and civil rights movements. As President Barack Obama wrote in 2015, “American history wells up when Aretha sings.”
Here are some of Franklin’s most memorable quotes from her incredible career, covering everything from music to love and, of course, respect.
Gospel goes with me wherever I go. Gospel is a constant with me.
I didn’t think my songs would become anthems for women. But I’m delighted. Women probably immediately feel compassion and relate to the lyrics. We can all learn a little something from each other.
The brother that gets me is going to get one hell of a fabulous woman.
Music changes, and I'm gonna change right along with it.
People really don't have to give you anything, so appreciate what people give you. And just don't let that go to your head, whatever it is they give you.
It really is an honor if I can be inspirational to a younger singer or person. It means I’ve done my job.
It’s the rough side of the mountain that’s the easiest to climb; the smooth side doesn’t have anything for you to hang on to.
Always semi-retire, never retire. Who wants to just sit somewhere? I'm a people person. And I love performing. It's the way it is and the way it's going to be.
Every birthday is a gift. Every day is a gift.
We all require and want respect, man or woman, Black or white. It's our basic human right.
Be your own artist, and always be confident in what you're doing. If you're not going to be confident, you might as well not be doing it.
Being the queen is not all about singing, and being a diva is not all about singing. It has much to do with your service to people. And your social contributions to your community and your civic contributions as well.
In terms of helping people understand and know each other a little better, music is universal.
Don’t say Aretha is making a comeback, because I’ve never been away!
I am doing what I love to do, and you cannot beat that.
Soul is a constant. It's cultural. It's always going to be there, in different flavors and degrees.
I sing to the realist. People who accept it like it is. I express problems. There are tears when it’s sad and smiles when it’s happy. It seems simple to me, but for some people, I guess, feeling takes courage.
If a song’s about something I’ve experienced or that could’ve happened to me it’s good. But if it’s alien to me, I couldn’t lend anything to it. Because that’s what soul is all about.
I will always be singing somewhere.
Photo credit: MARKA/ Alamy Stock Photo