On Feb. 14, 1967, a 24-year-old Aretha Franklin hit a New York City recording studio and ended up cutting one of the greatest pop songs of all time. Grammy-nominated R&B singer Andra Day, 32, reflects on the Queen of Soul’s feminist anthem 50 years later.
“I think it’s virtually impossible for me to remember the first time I heard ‘Respect,’ because Aretha played in my house all growing up. The Temptations, Aretha, Sam Cooke: That’s what my father played. I was familiar with the Otis Redding version of the song as well, and I loved Otis’ recording, but it was not as impactful because I think the message had to be sung by a woman—for women.
As women, we are respectful, we are nurturers, we believe in people, we honor them. That’s what we do. More often than not, women need that respect reciprocated. In 1967, when this song came out, you can imagine what the environment [for women] was like. You weren’t considered that important. And the funny part is, when it comes to equal pay for women and equal opportunity for women…we’re still talking about that in 2017. ‘Respect’ was even more relevant at the time, but it’s still relevant today.
The lyrics are a statement: ‘Hey, don’t pity me, don’t just look at me as sexy. Respect me. Look me in my eyes. Empathize with me. Listen. Understand. Pay attention to my struggle.’ Aretha is demanding to be looked in the face and to be understood, to be considered. That’s a universal statement for everybody, whatever their struggle or obstacle, wherever they come from. It’s universal. Aretha has one of those voices that even if I didn’t pay attention to the lyrics, I felt exactly what she was saying. That’s raw passion. She exuded that when she sang. Her power and that raw cry translate into everything. She taught all of us to tell a story with your voice, your melody, the way you deliver a song. I think she’s the epitome of connectedness.”