Aretha Franklin and Martin Luther King’s extraordinary friendship explored in ‘Respect’ movie

5 August 2021, 13:48 | Updated: 5 August 2021, 16:01

Aretha Franklin and Martin Luther King’s extraordinary friendship explored in ‘Respect’ movie
Aretha Franklin and Martin Luther King’s extraordinary friendship explored in ‘Respect’ movie. Picture: Getty
Hannah Lovejoy

By Hannah Lovejoy

Aretha Franklin and Reverend Martin Luther King Jr worked together and paved the way for many as they became a huge part of the US civil rights movement.

Aretha was born in Memphis in 1942 and later raised in Detroit during the 1950s, she was surrounded by people who would go on to be the faces of the US civil rights movement, including her father CL Franklin.

CL was a Baptist minister and circuit preacher, and this led to Aretha spending much of her early life in the church. As her father’s influence began to grow, he became friends with people of influence including Sam Cooke and Rev King.

Read more: Jennifer Hudson visits Aretha Franklin's family as new film clip shows her singing 'Respect'

In the upcoming biopic Respect, Aretha’s friendship and connection to Rev King is explored in more detail. Aretha is played by Jennifer Hudson, and Aretha personally chose Jennifer for the role. Forest Whitaker plays the role of CL Franklin and Gilbert Glenn Brown plays the role of Martin Luther King Jr.

Pastor Franklin organised the historic Detroit Walk to Freedom in 1963 - it was the largest-ever demonstration for civil rights in the US until the March on Washington took place later on in the same year. The March on Washington was the day that Rev King made his famous speech titled ‘I Have a Dream’.

Rev King would often visit Aretha’s family home and when Aretha was 16-years-old she went on tour with Rev King. It was in 1958, shortly after, that she recorded her first album.

A decade later, in 1968, Rev King passed away and Aretha had the honour of singing at his funeral. Aretha sang the track ‘Take My Hand, Precious Lord’ which was made famous by Gospel legend Mahalia Jackson.

When Aretha passed away in 2018, Rev King’s youngest child, Bernice King described Aretha as a “legend from the civil rights era” and detailed how Aretha was the soundtrack to “freedom” and supported Rev King and other civil rights leaders.

Read more: Who was Aretha Franklin's mother Barbara Siggers Franklin?

“We have lost another legend from the civil rights era. From the time she was a teenager, Ms. Franklin has been singing freedom songs in support of my father and others in the struggle for civil rights,” Bernice’s statement reads.

“As a daughter of the movement, she not only used her voice to entertain but to uplift and inspire generations through songs that have become anthems such as ‘Respect’ and ‘Bridge over Troubled Water’. After my father’s assassination, her relationship with my mother continued and grew stronger.”

Aretha Franklin, singer, poses for portrait in 1960s
Aretha Franklin, singer, poses for portrait in 1960s. Picture: Getty

Bernice explained that Aretha was “one of the many artists” who helped her mother, Coretta Scott King, to establish the King Holiday. Bernice also described Aretha as a “shining example” of how to use the arts and entertainment to create social change.

Read more: Who were Aretha Franklin's sisters Erma and Carolyn and were they singers too?

She continued: “When my mother passed in 2006, she [Aretha] tried desperately to get to Atlanta for her service but was hindered by the winter weather in Detroit.

“As talented as she was as a singer and songwriter, Ms. Franklin’s legacy extends far beyond that of a dynamic singer and entertainer. She was a shining example of how to utilize the arts and entertainment to support and promote nonviolent social change.”