Yesterday, we celebrated the memory of legend and Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. You’d be hard pressed to find one woman in America who hasn’t shouted out the anthem ‘R-E-S-P-E-C-T’ at the top of her lungs with a hairbrush “microphone” (and possibly rollers in their hair) at some point or another in her lifetime. Growing up, when the women in my family would clean the house on the weekends, Aretha ALWAYS filled our apartment’s air distracting from the potent smells of Clorox and Ajax in the tub, of course. With 18 Grammy Awards, 73 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, and as the first woman ever inducted in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, it’s safe to say Aretha Franklin was a BAD MAMA JAMA!
Today, however, I want to celebrate Aretha Franklin for maintaining equal relevance to Gucci Mane and Quavo by GETTING TO THE BAG forever and for always! Let me explain.
As a result of the Jim Crow era, Aretha and many other black entertainers of her generation were victims of lower wages (not unlike today) and often weren’t paid at all, re: BB King and Ray Charles. But Ms. Franklin was most definitely NOT about that life and clearly was the first to coin the line, “B**ch Betta Have My Money!” Since the 60s, Ms. ‘Retha demanded venues to pay her in CASH up front or she refused to saaang. In her dressing rooms, next to her makeup, she would keep a stack of $100 bills that would either go in a bag/purse to her security guards or on stage with her right on top of the piano. I see you, Sis!
But in all seriousness - this bears repeating: imagine [a woman] telling the boss, “If I don’t get paid first, I’m not working…” and it actually HAPPEN!? I feel like there’s gotta be a hidden Aretha Franklin diva-ness rooted in every Black entertainer’s (hell, every Black person’s) core that should be implemented on a more regular basis. Especially in the lion pit of blood-thirsty, money-hungry executives not giving a shit about the artist, owning-your-entire-catalogue, of a music industry! An industry majorly notorious for proposing poor business deals designed to hoodwink hopeful entertainers and fatten the label execs with the bulk of the financial earnings. An industry that might’ve betrayed folks like Prince and Soulja Boy... but definitely put some R-E-S-P-E-C-K on ‘Retha Franklin’s name.
As a millennial woman and artist, it was inspiring to learn that Ms. Franklin was so unapologetically about her paper* (see: cheddar, dough, bread, chicken, coins, or moola). It’s disappointing enough that women of color are mistakenly known for perpetually having bad attitudes and ‘ghetto’ names, but we’re also not at the top of the totem pole for receiving the respect and courtesy we demand on demand, double ESPECIALLY as it relates to getting paid. We’re constantly debating how much we’re worth, why we’re worth that much, and how can we negotiate a better deal for this worth? (This also sadly applies to relationships for most of us.)
Do you realize how prominent a figure Aretha had to be to have a net worth of $60M (on record) up to the time of her death? Can somebody say F**k that Netflix and chill, what’s your net worth! An outlier in her generation's highly manipulative industry and all praises due most likely to cash advances? Even Whitney Houston’s net worth (at her passing) was $40 million dollars less than Aretha’s and she lived a much shorter life span during a time of higher payouts/budgets and had the access and advantages of multiple industries including movie/film and reality TV. Aretha had plenty of chances to rise and fall during her career and become victim to financial ruin like so many that came before, during, and after her. However, something tells me she’s got a mattress or TV stashed somewhere with thousands of dollars in it like Big Momma’s house on Soul Food just waiting to inflate that $60M number. Note to self: look for Uncle Pete.
The anomaly of the music industry and the epitome of ‘Black Girl Magic,’ Aretha Franklin gives me heaps of hope and inspiration for all the women of my generation and those to follow. She boldly reinforced her rights to refuse anyone that didn’t appreciate her worth. And for those that did value her talent, she only had the time if they HAD THE DIME! It makes you sit back and think about every time you might’ve low-balled yourself to make yourself available and useful for other’s needs and wants or all the times you wanted a job to take you instead of you taking the job.
Aretha, both an angel and a diva, has helped me think twice about how I manage and assess my talents as a woman of color. And now that I’m inspired and no longer have to take my talents to Magic City to supplement for unpaid invoices, let me walk to my bosses office and demand my cash advance, right quick (say a little prayer for me, *wink wink*). Thank you, Ms. ‘RETHA! Sleep in Power.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
(Photo: Taylor Hill/Getty Images)