Aretha Franklin’s music is indeed a piece of American history and resonates with everyone in an emotional, intimate, and powerful way.
When asked about Franklin’s enormous gift of her voice, star and Executive Producer, Jennifer Hudson, said, “Her singing, her knowing her calling, her anointing is what we would call. It was her saving grace. That was her comfort, which you will see in this film. You’ll get to learn that [music] became her healer. The stage became her home, and that was her comfort zone. And that was something that belonged to her that she could always go to — anytime she would sing she would go into that place. That was her safe haven, her comfort zone, her shelter, her expression.”
In a fitting tribute to Franklin, her gospel roots and the power of healing that music took on in her life, Jennifer Hudson, Carole King and Jamie Hartman collaborated with producer will.i.am for the new original song Here I Am (Singing My Way Home) for the film’s soundtrack.
“Music is a living and breathing character in this film, as it was in Ms. Franklin’s life. The process of creating this song was like constructing the greatest tribute I could possibly offer to her spirit. It was the final exhale of this extraordinary project and one that I let out with complete fulfillment. Being able to do so with Carole King and Jamie Hartmnan was an incredible privilege.” recalls Hudson about penning and recording the original song.
“Carole is one of the greatest songwriters of all time,” she continues, “and whether we were trading stories, playing piano together over video conference or working through lyrics, it was always a masterclass — both in life and music. Jamie and I have collaborated together in the past and it’s always so wonderful to create with him — he is continuously thinking outside of the box in a way that deepens the musical experience in indescribable ways. Our goal was to show that music was always the anchor for Ms. Franklin, in all that she did, and I hope this song illustrates the strength of her voice – both literally and figuratively – which always brought her home.”
“After not having written with songwriting partners for a while, writing a song with Jamie Hartman and Jennifer Hudson felt both familiar and fresh at the same time.” said Carole King about the process of creating “Here I Am (Singing My Way Home) alongside Jennifer Hudson for the film. “The process of songwriting continues to amaze me. One minute there’s nothing, and then a song grows out of the seed of an idea.”
Coming together for Respect was full-circle for King – the multi-Grammy-winning recording artist who co-wrote with (songwriter) Gerry Goffin the signature Aretha Franklin single (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman “Jennifer and I had previously performed together, and I was excited about writing with her. The seed was dormant when Jennifer, Jamie, and I first met virtually. After Jamie and I conveyed our ideas, Jennifer expressed her thoughts in a way that was so rich and full and honest that they inspired a rewarding collaboration that led to the song Here I Am. Her powerful performance blew me away.”
“Growing up, Aretha Franklin was the soundtrack of my childhood,” says Stacey Sher, one of the film’s producers. “My parents played her all the time. When I was in my very early 20s, I worked on some music videos for Atlantic Records and I was given a gift of the Atlantic Rhythm and Blues boxed set on LP, which I still have. It is one of my treasured possessions. And of course, most of the Jerry Wexler Aretha songs are on that. So it was really a dream come true to be able to get to work on this film.”
Ms. Franklin was a huge influence on Mary J. Blige’s music career. “My first memory of Aretha Franklin was my mom playing Bridge Over Troubled Water all over the house. And playing Do Right, Woman. My mom is a huge Aretha Franklin fan. So when I was a little girl I heard a lot of Aretha in my home and I was always moved by just her voice, how it gave me chills.”
Composer Jason Michael Webb has a different musical testimony of Ms. Franklin’s music. “Aretha for me has always been an inspiration coming out of the church. And I feel like the obsession that I had for her music and how she merged gospel and pop together has always been such an influence for me that I almost willed my way into this film. And so it really happened, the way that it all kind of fell together – it was a very spiritual, kind of cosmic event that brought me to the film. I feel like it was something supernatural.”
Songwriter, Stephen Bray, goes on, “What always strikes me about Aretha is that she gives you virtuosity without ego. It feels as though she’s sharing her experience emotionally through the song and she’s not trying to impress you. She’s just sharing, and it’s coming out probably somewhat, you know, steeped in church. It’s coming out emotionally because of that. I feel like that lack of ego about it makes it honest and true and you cannot resist it.”
“There’s a fire behind Aretha’s voice. There’s a fire and a softness at the same time, you know, and it’s just like, it’s like a slow burn and then it gets explosive and then it comes back to a slow burn and the fire never goes out. You know? I think that’s the thing that made America fall in love with Aretha Franklin. And to this day, we all love her,” says actress, Saycon Sengbloh.
Respect opens today in theaters.