How Aretha Franklin Took Her Signature Song Right From Under Otis Redding

Rolling Stone's Rob Sheffield on why the Queen of Soul was "America's Greatest Voice."

Aretha Franklin's Retirement Party Could Be at Carnegie Hall
Aretha Franklin performs on stage at the Chicago Theater on December 15, 1986 (Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

Perhaps of all the hundreds of tributes penned in honor of Aretha Franklin upon her death this past week, Rolling Stone columnist Rob Sheffield hit the highest of notes with a single anecdote.

The veteran music journalist illuminated the making of one of her signature hits, “Respect,” a song that was actually written by Otis Redding, but “stolen” by Aretha and her sisters and backup singers, Carolyn and Erma.

“They made a sly joke out of chanting her nickname “Ree, Ree, Ree, Ree” — as if to serve notice that Miss Ree has claimed the song, from no less than Otis Redding himself,” explains Sheffield. “She wrote herself right into ‘Respect,’ so that anyone who sings it is calling her name. Including Otis Redding — whenever he sang it live , he introduced it as “a song that a girl took away from me.” But for him, that was the ultimate honor. Otis spent the rest of his life bragging about how Aretha stole his song. Who wouldn’t?”

But Aretha didn’t stop there, as Sheffield points out. In her version, she adds a new break — “R-E-S-P-E-C-T/Take out T-C-P!” By taking out those three letters, the word spells, “Ree’s.” The song now belonged to her. 

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