6th October 2021

Singing to Respect: Jennifer Hudson as Aretha Franklin

Katie Bray explores the influence of Aretha Franklin’s classic soul songs, in the wake of the release of her biopic, Respect
Singing to Respect: Jennifer Hudson as Aretha Franklin
Photo: Stevens21 @ pixabay

Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, was one of the greatest and most influential singers to date. From ‘(You make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman’ to ‘Think’, her songs became important parts of music history, even featured across many movie soundtracks – and much more. Yet her influence goes way beyond just the sound of her music. Her songs stood for something and actively fought for civil rights.

The subjects of her songs include systemic sexism against women, becoming an icon for females across the world (Julie Hinds, Aretha Franklin: Feminist icon sang for all women (freep.com)),  human rights, and ‘the struggle for black equality (David A. Love, NBC How Aretha Franklin’s commitment to civil rights and equality changed hearts and minds (nbcnews.com) (2018)).

Photo: Aretha Franklin via Wikimedia Commons

In the BBC article, Aretha Franklin: The sound of the civil rights movement (2018), her determination and affect on society are clearly highlighted by Dr Bernice King. She discusses how Franklin created change through “her voice” and would “uplift and inspire generations through songs that have become anthems”.

Since then the film industry has been celebrating her achievements and life story through the film Respect, starring Jennifer Hudson who gives a fierce vocal performance, thus making her the perfect fit for this role.

The titular song, ‘Respect’, demands energy, enthusiasm, and courage from Hudson, with the pressure of performing one of the most significant anthems ever created. She certainly delivered an outstanding rendition of the song. Her vocalisations, range, and dynamic power were perfectly suited for its powerful nature.

Perhaps the most impressive thing is how Hudson adapted her voice to the tones of Aretha’s, yet seemingly breathed new life and energy into the songs. Meanwhile each song was filled with beautiful rhythms, especially brought about by the piano and percussion.

Delicate care was clearly placed into maintaining the spirit and feeling of each of Aretha’s classics, with ‘(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman’, ‘Think’, ‘Ain’t No Way’, ‘I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)’, and ‘I Say A Little Prayer’ being standouts. Hudson was able to build on each song with a range of delicate and powerful vocals. A new song ‘Here I Am’ was also written for the movie, but it does not feel out of place and is a testament to the talents of those involved with the project.

Jennifer Hudson’s performance in Respect is one that many people will be looking forward to, and will hopefully welcome a new wave of fans to the music of the Queen of Soul herself, Aretha Franklin.

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