Thursday morning, the world mourned the death of legendary soul singer Aretha Franklin, who passed away at age 76 from pancreatic cancer. Her legacy looms large; speaking to The New Yorker in 2016 about Franklin’s lasting impact, Barack Obama — who had the singer perform at his first inauguration in 2009 — said:
Nobody embodies more fully the connection between the African American spiritual, the blues, R&B, rock and roll — the way that hardship and sorrow were transformed into something full of beauty and vitality and hope. American history wells up when Aretha sings.
[She] captures the fullness of the American experience, the view from the bottom as well as the top, the good and the bad, and the possibility of synthesis, reconciliation, transcendence.
Not only did Aretha give us some of the greatest soul tracks (and outfits) of all time, but she also routinely dolled out nuggets of wisdom on music, aging, and female independence. Here are some of our favorites:
A common theme for Aretha has always been the title of one of her most famous songs. “Everybody wants respect,” she told Rolling Stone in 2014. “In their own way, three-year-olds would like respect, and acknowledgment, in their terms.”
In a 2016 Elle piece about “Respect,” an Otis Redding cover that quickly rose to the top of the charts, Franklin told Sheila Weller, “As women, we do have it. We have the power. We are very resourceful. Women absolutely deserve respect. I think women and children and older people are the three least-respected groups in our society.”
On love and (weight) loss:
“Falling out of love is like losing weight,” she said to The Independent in a 2011 interview. “It’s a lot easier putting it on than taking it off.”
On aging and retirement:
“Always semi-retire, never retire. Who wants to just sit somewhere?” she told the AARP Magazine. I’m a people person. And I love performing. It’s the way it is and the way it’s going to be.”
On staying grounded:
On her 1968 single “Think,” Aretha sang:
People walking around everyday
Playing games, taking score
Trying to make other people lose their minds
Ah, be careful you don’t lose yours.
On overcoming obstacles:
From a 1964 Ebony interview: “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.”
On the transformative power of music:
When Franklin was told in a 2016 Elle interview that songs like “Respect” inspired Harmony Grillo, an advocate for sexually exploited girls, to leave the man who had exploited her, the singer responded, “That makes it all worthwhile, just to know I uplifted another person — I wouldn’t be doing anything else. In terms of helping people understand and know each other a little better, music is universal — universal and transporting.”
On female independence:
From “A Rose Is Still a Rose” (1998):
A rose is still a rose
Baby girl, you’re still a flower
He can leave you and then take you
Make you and then break you
Darlin’, you hold the power.
On appreciating every day:
At her 74th birthday celebration in New York City, Aretha told People, “Every birthday is a gift. Every day is a gift.”