Jennifer Hudson knew Aretha Franklin. He Had To Learn To Play It

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Jennifer Hudson had plenty of time to think about how she would be portrayed. Aretha Franklin on screen. In 2007, shortly after Hudson won the Academy Award for best supporting actress for playing a girl group singer in “Dreamgirls,” Franklin told Hudson she should play him in a biopic, and a ten-year-long show filled with weekly conversations. started the friendship.

Like Franklin, Hudson grew up singing in church and poured her gospel virtuosity into pop songs. And like Franklin, whose mother died of a heart attack at age 34, Hudson suffered a sudden, devastating loss: his mother, brother, and nephew were murdered in Chicago in 2008. Song to sing at the 2004 “American Idol” audition “Incredible Grace” at Franklin’s funeral Now, Hudson plays Franklin in the biopic “Hear respect” It’s coming to theaters this week.

“Every artist, every musician has to cross paths with Aretha, especially if you want to be great,” Hudson said in a video interview from Chicago, where she lives; his gray cat macavitywas lurking in the background. “He’s always been in my life in some way, even if I didn’t know it.”

While explaining the choices involved in his performance, Hudson said he realized how much of a “plan” Franklin had throughout the movie. “Our church music was based solely on it. ‘Amazing Grace’, which I grew up singing in church, came from the album ‘Amazing Grace’. I didn’t realize that until I did research on the movie.”

Hudson, 39, is both the star and executive producer of “Respect.” The film chronicles Franklin’s life from childhood – as a vocal prodigy who sang in church alongside his father, the famous Reverend Clarence L. Franklin – at 12-year-old pregnancy, with the frustrating years of her singing. jazz standards At Columbia Records, his triumphant debut Queen of Soul on Atlantic Recordsand the pressures and booze that threaten everything he gets. His story ends in 1972 when Franklin reclaims his church legacy to record his landmark live gospel album “Amazing Grace.”

“Respect” is the first film directed by Liesl Tommy, who was born in apartheid-era South Africa and works heavily in theatre, directing reconceptualized classics and politically charged new plays. “Hold” It’s about women during the civil war in Liberia. (For this production, Tony was named best director.) To write the screenplay for “Respect,” Tommy brought in playwright Tracey Scott Wilson, whose grandfather was a preacher.

“When I put my mind to the movie, it was supposed to start and end in church,” Tommy said by phone from Los Angeles. The subject of the movie was the woman with the biggest voice in the world, who had a hard time finding her voice. I wanted to know how a person could sing with such emotional intensity.

“Many people have great voices,” he continued, “but he’s the only one who delivers songs this way. If you have an easy journey, I don’t think you’ll be Queen of the Spirit. He had a lived experience that allowed him to sing like that.”

Franklin was celebrated again after his death in 2018. “Amazing Grace” The album was finally released that year. National Geographic has dedicated a full season of the television series “Genius” to Franklin. Cynthia Erivo in the title role. “Aretha Franklin lived a life that had room for many versions of many stories about her,” Tommy said. “She deserves it.”

“Respect” juxtaposes the personal and political currents of Franklin’s career: compose a feminist anthem with “Respect” as she grapples with an abusive husband, the regular Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. While with, he supports controversial figures like Black Power activist Angela Davis. One of the crudest scenes involves Franklin singing at King’s funeral. Hudson said, “At the time, she said it was Aretha Franklin and she was very close to Dr. “Imagine being a King,” he said. “Imagine the pain he went through and the pain he endured. But in his position, he still had to be that person to be the light in such a dark time. It is difficult.”

Still, Hudson and Tommy were determined to put Franklin’s music at the center of the film. “Everybody was like, ‘We’ve never seen a biopic with so much music you can listen to the songs,'” Hudson said. “This isn’t a musical. It’s a biography about artists, musicians. But I can’t think of any biographical or musical done that way.”

As executive producer, Hudson said, “I wanted to make sure the right songs were in the movie. I wanted ‘no’. If I’m just an actor, I really don’t have a say, but with that, we can’t do that unless ‘Sorry but ‘Ain’t No Way’ is part of it. .’”

In an extended recording studio sequence, Aretha’s sisters, Carolyn and Erma Franklin, sing all the backup vocals—not Cissy Houston, who replaces the wordless soprano counterpoint song. “It’s part of the artistic license,” said Tommy. “You can only have so many characters. You have to keep it focused.”

To create intimacy, Hudson presented Franklin’s stage performances singing live on camera—not lip-syncing, but dubbing on vocals later. “I wanted to experience it as it was in life,” Hudson said. “If we’re recreating and recreating what you’ve done in your life, if it’s alive, it’s like, ‘Well, let’s do it live. ‘The Incredible Grace’ was live. ‘No’ was live. We will sing the song ‘Natural Woman’ live. So he can be authentic for what’s really going on in his life. ”

Franklin was a singer as well as a talented Bible pianist, his skills forged in church as a child. His commercially unsuccessful debuts for Columbia supported him with renowned jazz musicians and elaborate orchestral arrangements. It was elegant but already old-fashioned in the 1960s.

His return to the piano was a catalyst for indelible Atlantic hits, defining the groove with church foundations and building an instinctive call-and-answer between his fingers and his voice. Hudson only began learning piano after a career as a singer. “It was an actor’s choice to say, ‘I can’t play Aretha Franklin without learning some elements of the piano,'” Hudson said. “And now, when I’m learning music, I no longer just look at the top line, the melody line, the singing line. I think as an arranger. What key is that in? What is progression?”

Hudson also considered how to reinterpret Franklin’s songs. Their voices are different: Hudson’s is louder and clearer, Franklin’s is bluer and bolder, and Hudson wanted to imitate Franklin without copying it. “I was using his approach, using his shots and different nuances while just letting the effect he had on me come through,” Hudson said. “It was more about emotion than it was about matching grades.”

Despite years of conversations, Hudson still had to investigate Franklin. “Aretha wasn’t much of a verbal person unless it was through music,” she said. “I know from my experience of being around him, I used to be like, I really can’t tell where I stand. It didn’t give you much.” So Hudson began to understand the period and other circumstances in which she grew up to understand what it was like to be a woman back then. “It really wasn’t for me until I realized in the middle of the scenes that he was talking to me from his experiences, the things he said to me. His greatest expression was his music – and that was real.”

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