A 5-Minute Anthem, a Blues Brothers Cameo and Making President Obama Cry: Aretha Franklin's Greatest Pop Culture Moments
The Queen of Soul had a talent for acting, too
The fur drop. The hat. The tears in the president’s eyes. Aretha Franklin, who died on Aug. 16 at the age of 76, was called the Queen of Soul for a reason. But her talents went beyond singing — did you know she was in The Blues Brothers? And earned laughs on Murphy Brown? Here’s a look at some of her pop culture highlights.
Joining The Blues Brothers
Franklin showed off her acting chops in 1980’s The Blues Brothers, and “knocked everyone out,” star John Belushi told PEOPLE. “She’s a fine, fine actress, and I’d work with her again anytime.” He wasn’t alone: Universal Pictures even ran a campaign to get Franklin a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nod, though failed. Still, “I was very pleased with my performance,” she said.
“Happy memories of being with Aretha on movie sets and industry events,” Akroyd posted to Twitter Thursday. “The Queen had a wry, skeptical eye on the world but once you got her laughing you were in. What a voice! What a soul. Angel choirs should prepare for increased rehearsal and discipline.”
“I Knew You Were Waiting for Me”
Franklin’s 1987 duet with George Michael became her first Hot 100 No. 1 since “Respect” two decades earlier. Originally pitched to Tina Turner as a solo number, the song went to Franklin and Michael at the suggestion of Arista Records impresario Clive Davis.
Michael, who had recently split with his Wham! partner Andrew Rigeley, recalled being extremely nervous to sing with one of his great vocal heroes. “Nobody can emulate Aretha Franklin,” he wrote in his book, Bare. “It’s stupid to try. I just tried to stay in character, keep it simple — it was very understated in comparison to what she did.”
Dueting with Murphy Brown
In 1991, Franklin again made a case for her acting skills in a cameo on the popular sitcom, sitting down at the piano with Brown (Candice Bergen) for “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” Bergen chimed in hilariously on backup.
1998’s VH1 Divas Live
Who can make Céline Dion and Mariah Carey sound like they’re battling laryngitis? Franklin can. On the very first installment of the popular VH1 franchise, Franklin was joined by Dion, Carey, Shania Twain, Gloria Estefan and special guest Carole King. The group sang “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” though by “group” it was basically just Franklin, because she out-sang everyone in the most beautiful way.
The 1998 Grammy Awards
Franklin was a last-minute sub for an ailing Luciano Pavarotti at the ceremony that year, and had only 20 minutes to prepare his signature “Nessun Dorma,” according to USA Today. But no one would’ve guessed, given her moving performance of the aria (in Italian, no less!).
President Obama’s 2009 Inauguration
Her appearance at President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration was incredible, but what really got people talking was her Swarovski-crystal-studded hat, which quickly took off as the day’s most major meme.
The 2015 Kennedy Center Honors
Paying tribute to Carole King at the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors, Franklin had the crowd on its feet (and tears in President Obama’s eyes) as she belted “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” Extra points for the fur coat drop.
Her 5-Minute National Anthem
The Queen gets as much time as the queen wants, which was evident in 2016 when Franklin broke the Internet with her epic national anthem during a Detroit Lions game.