Today the world lost Aretha Franklin. The Queen of Soul passed away in her Detroit home after a battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 76 years old.

We’ll leave it to more qualified writers to eulogize Franklin and consider her contributions to the world of music, culture, and civil rights. As a movie critic, though, I wanted to acknowledge Franklin’s role in maybe the best scene in one of my favorite movies: John Landis’ The Blues Brothers.

Aretha plays the wife of Matt “Guitar” Murphy, one of the former members of the Blues Brothers Band. Jake (John Belushi) and Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) are on a mission from God to put their old band back together in order to raise money to save an orphanage. They come to Matt and Mrs. Murphy’s diner to recruit him. Aretha is not having it.

Eventually the argument escalates into song, with Aretha belting out her classic hit “Think”:

The Blues Brothers is about celebrating the power of music as an animating force in our lives. The way songs grab people in the film is almost like a ghost taking possession of someone; it pulls them out of their chairs and gets them dancing, even against their will. I love that in this scene, even Jake and Elwood — who want Matt to ignore his wife and come with them — can’t help but join her dance. Of course they do. No one could resist Aretha.

The song and Aretha’s vocals are magnificent of course, but I’ve always loved her acting in this scene as well. Her delivery is great; the way she spits out phrases like “two-big sleazy dives” and gives a “S—” that would make Isiah Whitlock, Jr. blush. She blows everyone else in the scene right out of the water, including Belushi and Aykroyd.

Franklin’s involvement, along with other blues and soul legends like Ray Charles, Cab Calloway, and John Lee Hooker, went a long way towards legitimizing The Blues Brothers, adding authenticity to a film that was ostensibly a road trip movie about a pair of music-loving comedians. It’s too bad Franklin didn’t make more of a go of an acting career, although I guess that would have come at the cost of her musical career, which would not have been an even trade. Franklin did return for the Blues Brothers sequel, Blues Brothers 2000. This time she sang “Respect”:

Blues Brothers 2000 is generally terrible, but Aretha’s scene is a rare highlight. She will be dearly missed, but her music, and her movie performances, will last forever.

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