The Seven Times Gays Fell in Love with Aretha Franklin
The undisputed Queen of Soul passed away today at age 76, leaving behind a storied career that includes 88 Billboard hits, 18 Grammys, and the honour of being the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Although her support of LGBTQ causes had been less overt than later stars like Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, or Lady Gaga, Franklin nonetheless paved the way for activism through music, set the template for the modern pop diva, and had a very, very strong gay following.
Here are seven key moments when Aretha Franklin rocked all our gay worlds.
1. “A Deeper Love”
In 1994, less than two years after Clivillés and Cole released “A Deeper Love” to much fanfare, Aretha Franklin chose to cover the track for the Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit soundtrack. It was number one on the Billboard dance charts within two weeks and made the song a hit TWICE in three years. And have you listened to it recently? It’s the ultimate queer bop, with a sexy vibe that’s all about pride and empowerment.
2. The Blues Brothers
In 1980, during a career slump, Franklin was handpicked by Dan Aykroyd to play a singing waitress in the comedy classic The Blues Brothers. Performing her hit “Think” and sporting a waitress outfit that she had specifically altered to show off her curves, her career was reinvigorated by the role. In fact, the studio was so impressed with her performance there was even a campaign to get her an Oscar nomination.
3. VH1 Divas
In an era when two divas can barely share a reality-show judging panel, it’s hard to believe that VH1 managed to trot out FIVE legends at the height of their respective careers for the very first Divas concert series. Celine Dion, Gloria Estefan, Mariah Carey, Shania Twain, and Franklin each performed two or three of their own hits, followed by a rousing joint rendition of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” And while everyone was a good sport about the whole thing … is it fair to say that Franklin crushed the competition? You be the judge.
4. Shade Queen
Aretha Franklin invented shade, and no one was safe. She was never one to hold back on her opinions of other singers, from Lady Gaga to Adele to Taylor Swift. The evidence is all over the internet.
However, the crowning moment in Franklin shade had to be when she sent a FAX to the Associated Press in 2017 to call out Dionne Warwick for referring to her as Whitney Houston’s godmother at Houston’s funeral. Please note: This was FIVE YEARS after the fact. Why? She informed the press that she was simply too busy to be anyone’s godmother, let alone the godmother of pop superstar Whitney Houston. Hell, she couldn’t even make it to the funeral because she was obligated to perform at Radio City Music Hall. She was *that* busy.
OMG, it’s a level of pettiness to which all gays aspire.
5. Gay Weddings
Although Franklin’s most notable political activism was in the civil rights movement (including touring with Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.), it has been well documented that she regularly performed at gay weddings throughout the last few years of her life and was pleased that many of her biggest hits (like “Respect”) were used by the community at LGBTQ rallies and marches. And of her sister and songwriter Carolyn Franklin (who was openly gay), she said, “I consider her a great woman … She went her own way, lived her own life, and found freedom in her individuality.”
6. The Hat
At President Obama’s 2009 inauguration, Franklin wore a Luke Song–designed chapeau that had tongues wagging. Massive and studded with Swarovski crystals, it was so memorable that the Smithsonian later requested it for their collection. And in true Franklin style, she refused, saying that looking at it made her “smile.”
7. The Fur Coat
It takes a true diva to waltz onstage in a full fur coat in front of countless luminaries (including the president of the United States) and casually toss it to the floor like it ain’t a thang. This is what Franklin did during the Kennedy Center Honors, and it lives on in perpetuity as one of the internet’s favourite gifs. Thank you, Ms. Franklin.