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From 'the hat' to 'Blues Brothers': 5 pop culture moments where Aretha Franklin reigned

Not all of Aretha's hits came on the charts. Here's a look at some of the memorable acting, duets and performances by the late great Queen of Soul — including the time she outshined Otis Redding.
/ Source: TODAY

When Aretha Franklin died of pancreatic cancer on August 16 at age 76, she took with her a powerful voice and an equally-powerful persona. During her lifetime she sold over 75 million records and earned 18 Grammy Awards.

The late, great Aretha Franklin.Mario Suriani / AP

But there was a lot more about the Queen of Soul you might not have known. Here's a look at five moments you might have forgotten about — and every single one of them deserves our R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

1. She blew us away at President Obama's inauguration.

Aretha Franklin owned the stage at President Obama's inauguration.Getty Images

On the day the first African-American president of the United States was sworn into office in 2009, it was Franklin — and her amazing hat — that actually felt like they were being inaugurated. Franklin belted out "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" at the outdoor ceremony with her usual style and power. But it was her gray felt hat, topped with a Swarovski crystal-studded bow, that became the real star of the show.

The hat designed by Luke Song of Mr. Song Millinery instantly made headlines, and a replica of the hat can now be seen in a traveling Rock & Roll Hall of Fame exhibit. According to Song, "She told me she wanted (the original) at the Barack Obama Presidential Library, and I think that is exactly where it should be." The library won't open until 2022, so we'll have to wait to see it.

2. She shared the mic with newer talents, and not just soul artists.

Franklin released her first album, "Songs of Faith," in 1956, and her last, "A Brand New Me," full of archival vocal recordings, in 2017.

But during the 1980s and 1990s, she had a slew of duet-based hits with popular current artists. Clearly, the next generation did not want to miss a chance to record with her.

Franklin recorded tunes with Annie Lennox of the Eurythmics ("Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves") in 1985; George Michael ("I Knew You Were Waiting — for Me") in 1987, and "Ever Changing Times" featuring Michael McDonald in 1992, to name just a few.

In a tweet following Franklin's death, Lennox wrote that she was "simply peerless."

3. She helped Whitney Houston at the beginning.

One of those duets was with Houston, who died in 2012. Franklin was an honorary aunt to the singer, having known Houston's mother, Cissy, for decades — Cissy sang background on Franklin's 1968 song "Ain't No Way" — and Houston called her "Auntie Ree."

Once Houston began recording her own music, Franklin happily stepped in to lend a hand, appearing briefly in Houston's "How Will I Know" video in 1985, and later recording "It Isn't, It Wasn't, It Ain't Never Gonna Be" in 1989 with her.

Producer Narrada Michael Walden, Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston take a break while recording "It Isn't, It Wasn't, It Ain't Gonna Be" in 1989 in Detroit, Michigan.Getty Images

4. She had to earn the song "Respect." And then she made it better.

Otis Redding, who wrote "Respect," first charted with Franklin's future signature tune in 1965. But it was Franklin who turned it into a power anthem, tweaking the lyrics to show the story from a female perspective. She also added the bridge to the song and played piano on the recording.

Redding quipped onstage at the Monterey Pop Festival that "this girl, she just took the song" away from him, but there was no denying: Franklin's No. 1 version from 1967 is the definitive version, now and forever.

5. She gave "The Blues Brothers" legitimacy.

Dan Aykroyd, Aretha Franklin and John Belushi on the set of "The Blues Brothers," on their mission from God.Getty Images

The John Belushi/Dan Aykroyd duo The Blues Brothers started out as a "Saturday Night Live" skit, but in 1980 they got their own movie version.

And as a way of showing they knew who the real blues musicians were, they invited names like Ray Charles, James Brown, Cab Calloway and Franklin to appear in the production.

Franklin played Mrs. Murphy, who had a few lines and sang "Think." She returned for "Blues Brothers 2000" in 1998, reprising the role. (Note: the clip below has some vulgar language.)

"She was just wonderful," director John Landis told Deadline. "She didn't like doing so many takes and she had issues with lip-syncing."

Those would be her only two feature film credits; IMDb also shows that she appeared as Inez Jackson in an episode of the 1972 series, "Room 222," and, of course, she appeared as herself a number of times in shows like "Murphy Brown."

In "Room 222" she sings "Guide Me Thy Great Jehovah," and naturally, she's awesome.

"Is she a minister?" someone asks on the show, according to MeTV.

"No, but she ministers," comes the reply.

Preach, Aretha! You will be greatly missed.

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