Aretha Franklin’s most powerful and inspiring quotes

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Kayleigh Dray
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To celebrate Aretha Franklin’s undeniable role as a champion for women everywhere, we’ve decided to take a look back at her most inspiring quotes.

Aretha Franklin passed away at the age of 76 on the 16 August 2018 – but there is no doubt in our minds that the Queen of Soul’s legacy will live on forever.

After beginning her 60-year career as a child signing gospel in Detroit, Franklin went on to release such chart-topping hits as Respect, Think, Chain Of Fools, I Say A Little Prayer and Angel – and has since been recognised as one of the best-selling musical artists of all time. Indeed, she has received no less than 18 Grammy Awards, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and a Grammy Legend Award, with countless other accolades under her belt, too.

And earlier this year she was post-humously awarded the Pulitzer Prize special citation, becoming the first individual woman to earn the prize since it was first awarded in 1930. When asked to comment on the decision, the Pulitzer board said she had been chosen thanks to her “indelible” contribution to American music and culture.

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Of course, there is so much more to Franklin than her music: she is a cultural icon, too. The first woman to be admitted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, she has been described as “the voice of the civil rights movement, the voice of black America” and a “symbol of black equality”.

“The Queen of Soul has been a singer all her life, thanks to the early encouragement of her mother, Barbara, and her father, the Reverend CL Franklin,” said president George W Bush, who presented the singer with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for achievement in the arts.

“They raised their daughter to be a woman of achievement, deep character and a loving heart.”

He added: “Aretha is still the best singer in the world, bar none. She finds meanings in lyrics that the composers didn’t even know they had.”

President Barack Obama, who later asked Franklin to perform at his inauguration, echoed the sentiments of his predecessor.

“American history wells up when Aretha sing,” he 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.”

Here, we remember the woman behind the voice, as we look back at Franklin’s most inspiring quotes:

On relationships:

“The man who gets me is getting one hell of a woman.”

On being a singer:

“Being a singer is a natural gift. It means I’m using to the highest degree possible the gift that God gave me to use. I’m happy with that.”

On her Plan B career:

“I still don’t think I would do anything else. I guess I could’ve been a prima ballerina. Or a nurse. Aretha Nightingale!”

Aretha Franklin fixes her makeup backstage before a performance at Symphony Hall in 1969

On her achievements:

“Being the Queen is not all about singing, and being a diva is not all about singing. It has much to do with your service to people. And your social contributions to your community and your civic contributions as well.”

On heartbreak:

“Falling out of love is like losing weight. It’s a lot easier putting it on than taking it off.”

On staying true to yourself:

“Be your own artist, and always be confident in what you’re doing. If you’re not going to be confident, you might as well not be doing it.”

On music:

“Music does a lot of things for a lot of people. It’s transporting, for sure. It can take you right back, it’s uplifting, it’s encouraging, it’s strengthening.”

On feminism:

“Women have broken through the glass ceiling, and they’re now more and more in the power seats.” 

On kindness:

“If you disrespect everybody that you run into, how in the world do you think everybody’s supposed to respect you?” 

On making mistakes:

“Trying to grow up is hurting. You make mistakes. You try to learn from them, and when you don’t, it hurts even more.” 

On racism:

“There were certain restaurants that I could not eat at. We bought groceries then ate them in the car. When we’d stop to get gas we had to go to certain gas stations because we could not use the restrooms at all of them. We could only use the ones at Gulf… we’ve come a long way. Because of Dr King and the civil rights movement, my life is forever changed.” 

On her role in the women’s liberation movement:

“I don’t think I was a catalyst for the women’s movement. Sorry. But if I were? So much the better!”

On forgiveness:

“You cannot define a person on just one thing. You can’t just forget all these wonderful and good things that a person has done because one thing didn’t come off the way you thought it should come off.”

On working hard to achieve your dreams:

“We didn’t have music videos. You weren’t an overnight sensation. You had to work at it and learn your craft: how to take care of your voice, how to pace your concerts, all that trial and error.”

On rolling with the punches:

“Music changes, and I’m gonna change right along with it.”

On her favourite book:

“I love Anne of Green Gables. I have for years. That’s one of my favourite things. She’s such a can-do kind of girl; that’s why I’m crazy about her.”

On soul:

“If a song’s about something I’ve experienced or that could’ve happened to me it’s good. But if it’s alien to me, I couldn’t lend anything to it. Because that’s what soul is all about.”

On rock ‘n’ roll:

“I’ve always felt rock and roll was very, very wholesome music.”

On growing older:

“Every birthday is a gift. Every day is a gift.”

On human rights:

“We all require and want respect, man or woman, black or white. It’s our basic human right.”

On beauty:

“I’m a big woman. I need big hair.”

On independence:

“52 years of recording for other people. I thought at this point, it’s time for you to record for yourself. So that way there wouldn’t be so many spoons in the soup. There would just be one Aretha spoon in the soup.”

On a life well lived:

“It is ever fabulous. I mean, fabulous. I’ve been so blessed. I’m most thankful for how good God has been to me. When you receive something like the Presidential Medal of Freedom, wow. After God’s grace, I’m so grateful for good friends, loyal fans and the love of the music. I treasure real people and I know the ones who have hung in there with me and I am truly thankful.”

Image: Getty


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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

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