Aretha Franklin died yesterday. She was truly the “Queen of Soul”. Writing in the online publication Slate, Marissa Martinelli said sherose to superstardom in 1967 with songs like “(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman” and “Respect,” a reimagining of the Otis Redding song that surpassed the original’s fame. She won a total of 18 Grammys over the past five decades, including a Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 1987 became the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”

Jack Hamilton, also writing in Slate, said, “Aretha Franklin’s was the voice of the 20th century. No other singer left such a definitive mark on the course of popular music—simply put, there is singing before Aretha Franklin, and there is singing after her. Her combination of technique, precision, nuance, and sheer power was approached by vanishingly few others”. Rolling Stone magazine, in its article “100 Greatest Singers of All Time”, listed her as No. 1. Mary J. Blige, quoted in the same article, said, “Aretha is a gift from God. When it comes to expressing yourself through song, there is no one who can touch her. She is the reason why women want to sing.” Jon Pareles, in his New York Times obituary, simply called her “one of the greatest American singers in any style.”

What was her greatest song? She brought Barack Obama to tears with her rendition of the Carol King standard, “(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman” at the 2015 Kennedy Center honors. “Think” from the movie the Blues Brothers is always a crowd favorite. Her version of “Amazing Grace” as reported in Cheal and Daily’s book “The Life of a Song”marked her return to gospel music. However for my money it was her cover (and perhaps the greatest cover of all-time) of Otis Redding’s R-E-S-P-E-C-T that is her top number. David Remnick, writing in the New Yorker said, ““Respect” is as precise an artifact as a Ming vase.”

Producer Jerry Wexler, who signed Franklin to the Atlantic label after a disappointing five years with Columbia, was quoted in a Slate article by Carl Wilson, “The call for respect went from a request to a demand,” Jerry Wexler has said. “[It] started off as a soul song and wound up as a kind of national anthem.” Wexler went on to add the song ““virtually defined the national consciousness at that moment in history”. Wilson wrote “Fifty-plus years later, “Respect” remains a song that lives in the world’s mouth, ready to the air in domestic arguments and political protests alike. It literally spells out a fundamental human need, in a way mainstream pop had not heard before, with both maximum dignity and maximum playfulness.”

While many assumed that Wexler brought the song to Franklin to record for her first album on Atlantic Records, she had actually been performing it live for some time. Wilson noted, “she’d heard Redding’s version years before on the radio and had been performing it live for some time. She’d worked out with her sisters how to reverse the gender point of view, and she came into the studio with her own take on the rhythm of the song already in place. Wexler recalled, “That stop-and-stutter syncopation was something she invented. She showed the rhythm section I had shipped up from Alabama—Jimmy Johnson, Tommy Coghill, and Roger Hawkins—how to do it. … But the creation of the background vocals and ingenious wordplay was done on the spot in the studio.”

This week on the Innovation in Compliance podcast, I interviewed Ellen Hunt, the Chief Audit Executive and Ethics & Compliance Officer at AARP. Hunt said the greatest impact executives can have on how they lead corporate culture is how they interact every day with their staff and others. If they show that they are not above the Code of Conduct, if they ask their folks to check the Code of Conduct and check in with the Compliance office, if they include the compliance team when there are major initiatives and projects, and if they are uniform and consistent in enforcing discipline, this sets the tone not just at the top but throughout. In other words R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Next week I am doing a one-week podcast series on ethical culture in a company, with Vincent DiCianni and Eric Feldman from Affiliated Monitors, Inc. (AMI), the sponsor of the series. They both say that how employees are treated by senior management is one of the key indicia of an ethical culture. If there is no R-E-S-P-E-C-T by management of its employees (and I have worked in places where it assuredly did not exist) there will not an ethical culture.

Institutional justice is another part of this. For instance in the area of discipline, this means that your compliance program must have the teeth to strongly and forcefully discipline employees who violate your compliance regime; all the way from the Boardroom to the Shop Floor and everyone in between. It also includes any third parties your organization may employee who may be high producers for your company. This means senior management must be committed to compliance through word, deed and action.

The #MeToo movement has led many senior executives to re-evaluate abusive behavior and many companies to no longer tolerate it. I think Franklin’s anthem about R-E-S-P-E-C-T is about as close as a perfect way to say it. Wilson closed his article with, “The song still has America’s number, too. There’s a sharper pang to its singer’s passing at a juncture when respect seems in especially thin supply in its political culture. After more than 50 years, the planet seems far away from running out of fools, and it’s down one more inimitable genius.”

Goodbye to the Queen of Soul. As the Righteous Brothers said,

If you believe in forever,

Then life is just a one-night stand.

If there’s a rock and roll heaven,

Well you know they’ve got a hell of a band, band, band.

Rock and Roll heaven significantly upgraded today.

Set List (from YouTube)

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, click here.

(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman at the 2015 Kennedy Center honors, click here.

Amazing Grace, click here.

Think (clip from the Blue Brothers movie), click here.


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© Thomas R. Fox, 2018