For the most part, yes. The Respect true story reveals that unlike many other musicians of her time, Aretha Franklin did not have a rags-to-riches story. While she did endure a lot in her formative years, poverty was not a substantial part of her childhood. Though Aretha was born in Memphis Tennessee, the family had relocated when Aretha was five and her father eventually became pastor of Detroit's New Bethel Baptist Church. Aretha Franklin's father, preacher C. L. Franklin (played by Forest Whitaker), was a very well-known Baptist minister and celebrity preacher. He preached around the country and commanded as much as $4,000 for an appearance, a hefty fee for the period (TIME).
Yes, and the Respect movie true story confirms that Aretha's shyness stayed with her into adulthood, except when she was on the stage. Those who met her in person often described her as soft-spoken and reserved. Despite her quietness, she still had a formidable presence.
Yes. While the movie depicts Aretha Franklin's father, Pastor C. L. Franklin (Forest Whitaker), as being a serial womanizer, he was far worse in real life. Back when the family was still living in Memphis and C. L. was the minister of a Baptist church there, he was known for preying on his female pre-teen congregants. He committed statutory rape (child sexual abuse) and impregnated at least one of them, a 12-year-old girl named Mildred Jennings. She was subsequently shunned for her own victimization, separated from her newborn, and kicked out of her home and the church community. Church members who suspected C. L. Franklin might be a predator monitored their young daughters while at church events. However, it wasn't long before C. L. moved his family to a church in Buffalo, New York, and then to Detroit where he took over the pastorship of New Bethel Baptist Church.
Aretha's father's disturbing behavior is highlighted in the 2014 biography Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin by David Ritz. In the biography, Ritz describes C. L. Franklin's Detroit church as an infamous "orgy church." He further said of the establishment, "High on the Holy Ghost, dancing in the aisles of New Bethel, the saints celebrated the love of Christ. High on wine and weed, the party people celebrated the love of the flesh." Ray Charles once referred to C. L.'s church as a "sex circus." Ritz says that as a result of growing up in such an unsettlingly promiscuous environment, Aretha's sexual awakening happened much earlier than normal.
Yes. Aretha Franklin's mother, Barbara, passed away from a heart attack on March 7, 1952 at age 34. It was 18 days before Aretha's tenth birthday. Her mother had been a gifted singer in her own right. Jennifer Hudson said that she could understand the pain and grief that came with such a loss, having lost her own mother, brother, and young nephew in a 2008 shooting.
Yes. A Respect fact-check confirms that Aretha Franklin's father, C. L. Franklin, was a mentor to Martin Luther King Jr. and rubbed elbows with many other black icons of the day, including Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, and Sam Cooke. "[Martin Luther King Jr.] and my dad were great friends," Aretha said in an interview. "[Martin Luther King Jr.] very definitely had an appreciation for gospel music. One of his favorite songs was 'Precious Lord,' and he would always ask me to sing that for him." Dick Gregory told American Masters in 1988 that if Martin Luther King Jr. ever needed money, he could always call Aretha's father. Aretha grew up in a house filled with both music and politics. Her own activism is highlighted in the Respect movie.
Yes. Aretha first became pregnant at the age of 12, giving birth to her son Clarence (named after Aretha's father) in 1955. Her second child, Edward, was born in 1957 when Aretha was 14. Given her father's reputation for preying on pre-teen girls, it was rumored that he might be the father of Clarence. However, in a handwritten will discovered in 2019, Aretha revealed that both children were born to the same father, Edward Jordan. Aretha's brother referred to Jordan as a "player."
For a long time, little was known about her first two pregnancies because she did not like to discuss the subject during interviews. We do know that while Aretha was pursuing her career (and at the same time trying to be a kid and spend time with friends), her children were being raised by her grandmother, Rachel, and her sister, Erma. Aretha visited her children often.
The Respect true story reveals that in early 1964, she gave birth to her third son, Ted White Jr., at age 21 while she was married to Ted White Sr. (portrayed by Marlon Wayans in the Respect movie). Her fourth and youngest son, Kecalf Cunningham, was born in 1970 when Aretha was 28 and involved with her road manager, Ken Cunningham.
Though Aretha Franklin and Ted White didn't marry until 1961 when she was 19, they had first encountered each other in 1954 at a party held at the Franklin home. Biographer David Ritz described White as being an infamous Detroit pimp. "Anyone who didn't see Ted White as a straight-up pimp had to be deaf, dumb, and blind," said Motown Records producer Harvey Fuqua. "It took someone that slick to get a great talent like Aretha in his stable."
Yes. The Respect movie true story confirms that Aretha Franklin's husband, Ted White, portrayed by Marlon Wayans in an unusual dramatic turn, was equally cold-hearted and abusive in real life. Aretha had gone from a smothering and controlling relationship with her father to a controlling and abusive relationship with White. It's true that Ted White helped Aretha land a record deal. However, biographer David Ritz revealed that during her marriage to White, she started drinking heavily to numb her unhappiness.
Yes. As stated in the previous question, Aretha Franklin began drinking heavily while in her abusive and unhappy marriage to Ted White. Aretha's friend Ruth Bowen said that her alcohol issues became publicly visible in 1967 when she fell off the stage during a performance in Georgia and broke her arm. Aretha said it was because of the bright lights. She always denied the reports of alcoholism. 1967 was the same year that her most well-known song, "Respect," was released. Eventually, Aretha made the difficult decision to separate from Ted White after roughly seven years of marriage. She kicked him out and they divorced the following year. Jennifer Hudson says that Aretha was clearly trying to become the boss of her own life. -EW.com
Yes. While the answer might seem obvious for Jennifer Hudson's performance in the movie, production designer Ina Mayhew said that "anyone who has to sing in this movie can actually sing." This explains many of the casting choices, including six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald as Aretha Franklin's mother, Barbara Franklin, and Grammy and Tony winner Heather Headley as gospel singer Clara Ward. The movie's performances were recorded live as the scenes unfolded.
To prepare for the role, Jennifer Hudson took six months of intensive piano lessons and studied Aretha's dialect and movement.
Yes. Jennifer Hudson sang Aretha Franklin's song "Share Your Love With Me" for her American Idol audition. After appearing on Idol and winning an Academy Award for the 2006 musical Dreamgirls, Hudson, then 25, received an invitation from the Queen of Soul to come visit her in New York.
"We met in New York," said Hudson, "and one of the first things she said to me was, 'You're gonna win another Oscar for playing me, right?' Imagine Aretha Franklin looking you in the face and saying that." The two became close friends and continued to speak on a regular basis up until Aretha's death in 2018. -EW.com
The Queen of Soul succumbed to pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer on August 16, 2018. She was 76. She is thought to have been first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2010. That is the year she underwent surgery for neuroendocrine tumors.
Aretha Franklin's family blasted the Nat Geo biopic, claiming that they weren't contacted for their input and approval. Jennifer Hudson echoed their sentiments with a more subtle response. "I know that Aretha was adamant that [her life] be a film. If it's not a film, it's nothing. I'm just honored that she picked me to play her. I mean, who can say that? And again, I would have never done it without her wishes." -EW.com
Learn more about the true story behind the Respect movie by watching the Aretha Franklin performances and interview below. Also, watch Jennifer Hudson perform for Aretha at her tribute concert.