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This week saw the sad passing of legendary singer and musical icon Aretha Franklin. In the wake of her death at the age of 76, there have been a number of heartfelt tributes and remembrances, showing respect for the Queen of Soul and the mark she left upon the world. While the vocalist will most be remembered for her indelible music and memorable live performances, she also made her mark on cinema. The singer's first, and penultimate, feature film role came in the 1980 classic, The Blues Brothers. After her passing, the director of that film, John Landis, took some time to remember what she was like on set, saying:
I don't remember her being a diva or anything like that. I think she was kind of disappointed in the waitress costume --- we dressed her up in a faux Chanel suit for the sequel, which she was a lot happier about --- but she was actually a real soldier. The only complaint Aretha made was that there were too many takes and she had issues with lip-syncing. Like many great artists, she never sang a song the same way twice, so there were issues getting her to match her lips. But she pulled through. I knew she'd be a wonderful actress even though she ended up making only two movies in her whole career. Both Blues Brothers movies.
Aretha Franklin was already the very famous Queen of Soul by the time she was in The Blues Brothers so it is neat to hear that she wasn't a diva on set, especially given her well earned reputation. So since as a diva naturally accustomed to the finer things, Aretha Franklin wasn't super thrilled with her plain waitress costume in the film. The most interesting thing John Landis reveals in his column for The Hollywood Reporter is how being a true singer is what gave Aretha Franklin the greatest difficulty when filming The Blues Brothers. Used to making slight variations for each vocal performance, she had a difficult time lip syncing to the track. So she basically had to soldier through and go against her natural instincts as an artist to make it work.
You can check out Aretha Franklin as Mrs. Murphy, performing 'Think' in The Blues Brothers in the video below:
John Landis also revealed that he and Dan Aykroyd specifically wrote this scene for Aretha Franklin and they got lucky that she agreed to do it. Franklin did have some changes she wanted to make to the piano music, and she just sat down and did it herself. After all, why trust anyone else to do it when you're Aretha Franklin? She also wanted to originally do 'Respect' for this scene but 'Think' worked for the script and the dialogue. Fortunately John Landis made it up to her in Blues Brothers 2000, where she gets to sing that iconic song as well as wear a much fancier outfit.
Although her only feature film roles came in the two Blues Brothers films, Aretha Franklin's impact on film goes way beyond that. Her music has provided the soundtrack for a number of classic movie moments and will likely continue to do so probably for as long as the medium exists.
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