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Paying R.E.S.P.E.C.T. to Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul

Aretha Franklin performs at the world premiere of "Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives" at Radio City Music Hall, during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

Aretha Franklin, the “Queen of Soul,” died Thursday at her home in Detroit, at 76 years old. But her songs, and the power she brought to soul music for the better part of a half-century, live on.

Known for such hits as “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” “Chain of Fools,” and the anthem for everyone who’s ever felt overworked and underappreciated, “Respect,” Franklin has had an indelible impact on music.  

“There’s really no overstating the impact that Aretha Franklin has had on music in the United States,” said Mark Lomanno, a visiting assistant professor at Northeastern who teaches courses in music ethnography, black popular music, and the music industry.

Franklin changed the whole sound of soul music.

“A big part of the soul movement was the connection between the sensuous and the religious,” Lomanno said. “That’s something Ray Charles was doing a bit before Aretha, but the reason her music was so important is because she was doing it as a woman of color, and that changed things.”

Lomanno said Franklin’s performance of soul music gave women of color a model for “claiming their complete identity without having to give up their faith, their politics, or their own sexuality.”

“Before Aretha, that hadn’t really happened,” he said.

More than just music, though, Franklin championed civil rights and the right for women to control their own lives at a time when both were radical ideals.

“Aretha’s music acted as anthems of agency, self-control, and being able to claim all aspects of one’s identity,” Lomanno said. “Because of her undeniable talent, she made these anthems of female self-empowerment topics of conversation in the mainstream. Her successes in the late 1960s and early 1970s really anticipated some of the social changes that happened in subsequent decades.”

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