Photo/IllutrationPeople gather at a makeshift memorial at the nameplate for singer Aretha Franklin outside the Apollo Theater on Aug. 16 in New York. (AP Photo)

Some songs capture and are empowered by the spirit of the times. American singer Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” was one such example.

Originally, it was written by a male singer and songwriter as a plea by a man willing to give his woman anything she wants and telling her that all he asks in return is “a little respect when I come home.”

Franklin’s version, however, was written from the opposite, woman’s viewpoint. “All I’m asking is for a little respect when you get home ... R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me.”

The song, sung by her powerful, bouncy voice, became a big hit in 1967, when the postwar wave of feminism was in full swing.

Franklin was strongly influenced by her father, who served as the pastor of a black Baptist church in Detroit and sang gospel songs. She gradually became a strong, symbolic voice of the civil rights movement, whose goal was securing equal legal rights for African Americans.

At a symbolic moment of her life, Franklin sang at the memorial service of Martin Luther King Jr.

Franklin died on Aug. 16 at her home in Detroit. She was 76. Widely known as the “Queen of Soul,” she won 18 Grammy Awards.

Former U.S. President Barack Obama mourned her on Twitter, saying, “In her voice, we could feel our history, all of it and in every shade--our power and our pain, our darkness and our light, our quest for redemption and our hard-won respect.”

At the end of the 1960s, Franklin produced another hit, “Think.”

To some people, the song’s lyrics--Think about what you’re trying to do to me--came across as a message with anti-Vietnam War connotations urging the U.S. government to “think” about what it was doing, according to her autobiography.

Sometimes songs take on a force and meaning that go beyond the intentions of the writer and the singer.

Is it partly because racial and sexual discrimination still exists today that so many people lament her death?

Her songs tell us that we can and should respect other people instead of building walls.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 19

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.