Q&A with Brenda Franklin-Corbett, Aretha’s Cousin and Consultant for ‘Respect’ Movie…

by Hermene D. Hartman

Brenda Franklin-Corbett is affectionately known around the world as “Cousin Brenda.” She is the cousin of Aretha Franklin. Many recognize her as one of the background singers to “The Queen.” She toured with Aretha for more than 50 years. So she knows a few things about Aretha Franklin.

In the biopic “Respect”, Jennifer Hudson was handpicked by Franklin before her death to play the Queen of Soul. Hudson felt the pressure to deliver and to honor the icon in this highly anticipated on-screen portrayal. The movie began in 1952 when Aretha was a 10-year-old prodigy, routinely aroused from sleep to sing for the Saturday night parties thrown by her father, the powerful and prosperous Baptist preacher C.L. Franklin. Soon she is a teenager and on the road touring the South with her father and Martin Luther King Jr., and the rest is history.

“Respect” revisits the expected triumphs and tragedies of Franklin’s life captured exquisitely by Hudson’s acting and singing abilities.

Brenda Franklin-Corbett was the movie consultant for the movie, and N’DIGO chatted with her to learn more about the Queen of Soul and how Jennifer Hudson found Aretha’s voice and possessed it.

 Who was the real Aretha Franklin?

Brenda Franklin-Corbett: Aretha was her very own person. She really did not like people telling her what to do. She did everything in a very classy way, but sometimes it came to the point when she would unapologetically do what she wanted to do. Her ambition was to be herself and was very authentic.

What were some of her favorite things to do?

Shopping, cooking and watching other celebrities. Aretha was an everyday person. She went to the grocery store alone and loved Walmart. My cousin would get her basket and fill it to the brim with all sorts of items. It gave her a sense of freedom to be herself as a woman who liked to go shopping. Often she would let me pick out things, and she would buy them. She was special. She was extraordinary.

What’s your favorite memory of Aretha?

She was living in California, and she asked me to stay with her for a year. I was helping her with her sons. Aretha and I had a lot of fun, and I often went to the studio with her.

We spent a lot of time in Beverly Hills and shopped on Rodeo Drive. She had a beautiful home in the Valley.

What did you think of the movie, “RESPECT?”

I was thrilled the movie was fantastic. Jennifer Hudson who played Aretha, did a fabulous job as she portrayed the real Aretha Franklin.

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Jennifer Hudson as Aretha Franklin

Aretha chose Jennifer Hudson to play her. What did she see in Jennifer?

She saw a lot of herself in Jennifer. I think she saw parts of herself in her particularly growing up and singing in the church.

On the big screen, you can see Aretha in Jennifer. She spent time with Jennifer and made sure Jennifer captured her energy.

What’s your favorite Aretha song?

“Ain’t No Way.” I loved them all, but “Ain’t No Way“ and “Natural Woman” are my favorites. They just stood out.

What was Aretha’s favorite song on Aretha?

“RESPECT“ and “AMAZING GRACE.” She loved “Amazing Grace.”

You sang with Aretha for 50 years on and off, what was that experience like?

Sometimes she would get mad at me and not take me on the road. We were like sisters more than cousins. I always went with her when she called.

Was Aretha involved with the Civil Rights Movement?

Her dad C.L. Franklin was involved with civil rights. He participated in a march with King in Detroit that proceeded the March on Washington. Because of his interest, it influenced her. She was often on the road with King advocating civil rights. It gave her a platform beyond being just a singer.

She was also a philanthropist. If she saw a person in distress on TV, she would find that person and give them a donation. She didn’t broadcast her efforts. She was a silent contributor, particularly at Christmas and other holidays. She would feed people in masses. Her giving ranged from soap and toothpaste to dinner. She didn’t broadcast it. She helped tremendously in Flint, Michigan, when she found out about the people drinking brown water. She was very disturbed about that. Again, she was a silent giver and would call anonymously, never as Aretha. She kept it undercover.

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