How the Blues Brothers Saved Aretha Franklin’s Career

By: Beth Moreton | Published: Feb 27, 2024

While Aretha Franklin may have been known as the Queen of Soul, her career wasn’t always smooth sailing.

There was a period in the 1980s when her career appeared to be taking a nosedive. But thankfully, an appearance in “The Blues Brothers” helped save Franklin’s career.

Aretha Franklin Was an Inspiration to Many

Having a career that spanned over 50 years, Franklin’s career was one that inspired singers of many genres to get into the music industry.

A black and white image of Aretha Franklin. Her hair is in a beehive style and she is wearing a pair of dangly earrings.

Source: Atlantic Records/Wikimedia Commons

According to Marie Claire, her songs were all about female empowerment, and she shared many inspiring quotes with her audience as well, such as: “I sing to the realists; people who accept it like it is.”

Aretha Franklin Had Many Hit Records

It’s always impressive for a singer or anyone in the music industry to be able to have a long-lasting career with so many hit records, and that’s exactly what Franklin did.

Aretha Franklin singing ‘RESPECT’. Her hair is up and she is wearing a gold sparkly dress whilst singing into a microphone. The background is pink with some white balls hanging.

Source: Black Music Archive Live!/YouTube

The star is mostly remembered for her hits such as “Respect” and “Think,” songs which are still played time and time again today.

The Blues Brothers Saved Aretha Franklin’s Career

Whilst she may have had a long-lasting career, that doesn’t mean that Franklin’s career was always a good one.

Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi in the film ‘The Blues Brothers’. They are both wearing black hats, sunglasses, suits, ties, and white shirts. They are sitting in a café.

Source: Universal Pictures/YouTube

In the 1980s, her career seemed to be struggling a bit. However, it was a small appearance in “The Blues Brothers” that managed to save it.

Soul Was Out, Disco Was In

She was dubbed the Queen of Soul, but the 1980s introduced the world to the power of disco, and this was a change that Franklin struggled with. 

Aretha Franklin sat between Robert Conquest and Alan Greenspan at the White House. They are both in suits and she is wearing a pink jacket and black top and is wiping away a tear. The American flag is behind them.

Source: Paul Morse/Wikimedia Commons

With Franklin being a soul singer, disco was a music genre that she didn’t mesh with, and she struggled to keep up with this new cultural phenomenon.

Aretha Franklin’s Record Contract Had Expired

Not only was Franklin struggling with the change from soul to disco, she was also hit with another devastating loss. Her record contract with Atlantic Records expired.

Aretha Franklin singing at The White House. She is singing into a microphone and is wearing a gold dress with a black watch. There is a choir behind her wearing blue robes with orange detailing.

Source: The White House/Wikimedia Commons

With her career potentially over, it wasn’t until “The Blues Brothers” came along that her star was able to rise again.


Aretha Franklin Had a Small but Important Part in The Blues Brothers

As reported by Vanity Fair, Franklin played the part of a server in the 1980 comedy “The Blues Brothers.”

Aretha Franklin plays the role of a waitress in the film ‘The Blues Brothers’. She is taking down their order and is standing talking to the brothers and is wearing her waitress uniform, which consists of a light pink shirt and apron, and a dark pink cardigan.

Source: Universal Pictures/YouTube

The film starred the likes of Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi. Franklin’s role in the film may have been small, but it ended up saving her career.


A Revival of Think May Have Revived Her Career

Franklin played Mrs. Murphy in “The Blues Brothers.” When the brothers try to recruit Matt “Guitar” Murphy at her diner, they meet resistance from his wife, Mrs. Murphy. To dissuade him, she sings her 1968 hit song “Think” in the film.

Aretha Franklin performing ‘Think’ in the film ‘The Blues Brothers’. She is in a café and one of the blues brothers is sitting behind her. She is wearing her waitress uniform, which includes a light pink shirt and dark pink cardigan. She is also wearing a pair of gold earrings.

Source: Universal Pictures/YouTube

This scene reminded many of the powerful voice she had and helped pave the way for a new start with her singing career.


Aretha Franklin Signed a Record Contract with Arista Records

Her performance in “The Blues Brothers” sparked a new start in her career, complete with a new recording contract.

Aretha Franklin performing at The White House. She is singing into a microphone and is wearing a grey hat, scarf, gloves, and coat. There is a crowd of people sitting behind her.

Source: Cecilio Ricardo/Wikimedia Commons

According to Billboard, after the release of the film, Franklin went on to sign a record contract with Arista Records, which helped her get back to the top of the charts.


Universal Pictures Didn’t Want Aretha Franklin

Despite the success of the film, all of the gains Franklin experienced after the film might never have happened if Universal Pictures had its way.

Aretha Franklin in ‘The Blues Brothers’ She is looking at the brothers and looks unimpressed.

Source: Universal Pictures/YouTube

As reported by Vanity Fair, Universal wanted newer talent for the role and had to be persuaded by Ackroyd and the rest of the crew to let Franklin have the part. 


Aretha Franklin Held Her Own During Filming for The Blues Brothers

Having finally managed to persuade Universal to let her come on board, there were some changes Franklin wanted to make to her role.

Aretha Franklin in the film ‘The Blues Brothers’. She is leaning against a wall and smiling slightly. She is wearing a light pink shirt and dark pink cardigan.

Source: Universal Pictures/YouTube

She requested changes be made to her server costume to make it more flattering, and she also made some changes to the piano.


Aretha Franklin Struggled with Some Aspects of Filming

As she was used to being a singer, and “The Blues Brothers” was the only acting role she ever had, there were some parts of the filming process Franklin struggled with.

Aretha Franklin in the film ‘The Blues Brothers’. She is standing with her hands on her hips and looks unimpressed. She is wearing a light pink shirt and dark pink cardigan.

Source: Universal Pictures/YouTube

According to the Tallahassee Democrat, Franklin struggled with the aspect of having to lip-sync her performance of “Think.” She was only used to live singing and would sing the song in a slightly different way each time. 


Aretha Franklin Was a Force to Be Reckoned With

To have such a small part in one film and have everything turn around for her just shows the power that Franklin had.

Aretha Franklin at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. memorial. She is standing on a plinth and is waving to the crowds. She has a pink jumper and leopard print coat on. Either side of her are Barack Obama and Joe Biden, who are both in dark suits.

Source: Tami A. Heilemann/Wikimedia Commons

She was one of music’s true icons and will forever be remembered for her powerful voice and incredible stage presence.