One of Aretha Franklin's biggest and first hits, "Respect" became a feminist anthem because of the way Franklin spells it out loud and proud. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. The album recording is quintessential soul, but it's amazing to see her perform the song live. In this Amsterdam concert from 1968, Franklin and her back-up singers throttled the song's tempo and absolutely tore it up.
Franklin's best singles combined her R&B fire with her gospel roots, best exemplified in a song like "I Say a Little Prayer." This dazzling performance from 1970, in color no less, might be her best rendition.
Franklin had already won a Grammy by 1967 for "Respect," but she made her debut as a Grammy performer in 1971 with this cover of Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water." She makes the folk classic her own by laying in a soul groove and her signature backing vocalists.
Franklin only starred in two movies in her career, both of them "Blues Brothers" movies, but in her brief time on screen in the '80s classic she gives a convincing performance cutting Jake and Elwood down to size. It's believable enough that you for a moment DON'T believe she's capable of belting into song.
Nearly 20 years after "Respect," Franklin teamed up with Annie Lennox and Eurythmics for a diva-driven duet of "Sisters Are Doing It for Themselves," kicking off a solid pop-rock period for the Queen of Soul.
You wouldn't be crazy for actually preferring Franklin's cover of The Rolling Stones' "Jumpin' Jack Flash" with Keith Richards to the original. The guitars are meatier, the song is laid-back, and she "how-how-howls at the morning driving rain." Also check out the MTV video featuring Whoopi Goldberg and her outrageous "Purple Rain" era hair.
Before she performed for Barack Obama's first inaugural, Franklin sang the "Les Miserables" anthem "I Dreamed a Dream" for Bill Clinton's inauguration. Sure it's a song about a woman sorrowfully reminiscing about "a time when men were kind," but she makes it sound pretty and inspiring.
OK, her Obama inaugural performance marked an historic day in American history, and her performance was stunning and inspiring, but LOOK AT THAT HAT!
Late in her career, Franklin didn't need to keep making hits; she could just own covers of American standards, whether it's "Amazing Grace" at the White House or this version of Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" on David Letterman's late-night show.
Carole King co-wrote "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" for Franklin in 1967, and in 2015 Franklin returned the favor, performing it for King during a Kennedy Center Honors showcase. King's astonished to see Franklin sit down at the piano, and it doesn't take long for Obama to start tearing up.