4 Lessons Aretha Franklin Taught Us

Hail to the Queen of Soul’s voice as a musician and agent of change.

As we mourn and celebrate Aretha Franklin, it feels like neither words nor songs can do justice to her talent and legacy, unless they are her own. A 20th and 21st century icon, winner of 18 Grammys and the undisputed Queen of Soul, she graced us with a voice that has not only provided us endless enjoyment and inspiration, but one that offers vital life lessons that we can draw upon to honor her memory and far-reaching impact on the world:

  1. Practice humility. The world knew her on a first-name basis, but Aretha stayed humble, a sign of greatness that is lost on most of today’s self-promotional “leaders.” Most of us with a fraction of the talent she possessed would have an inflated ego. Not Franklin. When asked about her greatness, she would quickly point to others who paved the way and inspired her.
  2. Use your voice. Not just for singing. To speak out against injustice. To demonstrate solidarity. To advance human rights. To help us find common visions and ground. To help each other. To show R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Aretha was a catalyst in the civil rights movement and demonstrated a steadfast commitment to working to eradicate discrimination based on race and beyond. We can all use our voices to stand up against ism’s, oppression and marginalization based on race, class, gender, sexual orientation, age, ability, religion and any social identity categories that leave people vulnerable to harm perpetrated by dominant groups and/or power-over structures.
  3. Keep your thinking cap on. Perhaps most famously associated with The Blues Brothers movie, Franklin’s “Think” song needs to stay on auto repeat, so that we remember to keep thinking about how our actions affect people. We are capable of getting to a better place, but not if we are skimming off the tops of our feeds and falling for the fear-based messaging that divides us. When we take the time to think and develop greater self-awareness and empathy, we can all experience the kind of Freeeeeeeedom! Aretha sings about. Research shows that when we use metacognition—the process of thinking about our thinking, we are more likely to flourish and thrive and redirect our actions for positive influence.
  4. Use your talent to your highest potential. Franklin said she used her gifts to the “highest degree possible.” Her longevity as an artist and activist didn’t waiver; instead she continued to create and contribute in ways that were so powerful, they will continue to inspire us for decades to come.

Thank you, Aretha for giving so much to us. Your voice lives on as we strive to honor your legacy of humility, advocacy and striving for equality and social change.


Flavell, J. H. (1979). Metacognition and cognitive monitoring: A new area of cognitive–developmental inquiry. American Psychologist, 34(10), 906–911.

Post, S. (2011). The Hidden Gifts of Helping: How the Power of Giving, Compassion, and Hope Can Get Us Through Hard Times. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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