How Jennifer Hudson’s sweet friendship with Aretha Franklin influenced the biopic Respect

The 2021 Aretha Franklin movie portrays the rising success of the singer, starring her close-friend Jennifer Hudson

Jennifer Hudson and Aretha Franklin pose backstage at the hit musical "The Color Purple" on Broadway at The Jacobs Theater on December 15, 2015 in New York City.
(Image credit: Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic)

Jennifer Hudson worked extra hard for her latest role as The Queen of Soul in the new biopic of Aretha Franklin, Respect. In addition to her talent as an actress and singer, Hudson also enjoyed a long friendship with the late superstar. The film debuts this Friday, August 13th.

The film chronicles Aretha’s rise to fame, beginning with her origin as a singer for her father’s church choir to recording her landmark album Amazing Grace. Jennifer had the honor of being hand-selected by Aretha to play her in the film, but it was the friendship that blossomed between the two has captured people's hearts. 

After watching Jennifer’s Oscar-winning performance as Effie in 2007’s film adaptation of the musical Dreamgirls, Aretha knew the actress had to play her in a biopic. She was so impressed by her performance that one of the very first things the Grammy winner told Jennifer was that she would win an Oscar for her performance. A very speechless Jennifer was up for the challenge.

“The very first thing Aretha said to me when we sat down was, ‘You’re going to win an Oscar for playing me, right?’” Jennifer said in an interview with CBS This Morning. “I didn’t know what to say.”

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After this first meeting, the two kept in touch as a long-lasting friendship was formed. The two would chat on the phone almost weekly, which spanned for eight years up until the “Respect” singer eventually passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2018.

“The last time I heard her voice was August 8,” Jennifer told The Hollywood Reporter. “Right after we spoke, they told me she was no longer competent enough to speak, but she sang to me on our call and we talked about my son and his cooking. She loves to cook and so does he. I truly miss hearing from her.”

Before their friendship began, the two had previously met in 2004 when Jennifer was an American Idol contestant. Jennifer had the privilege of opening for one of Aretha’s live performances and she shared this nostalgic moment with her Instagram followers Monday, the night of the film’s premiere.

“In honor of Premiere Day! This is the first time I met @arethafranklin in 2004. I got to open her show that night! I’ll never forget it. Thank u @jeremylawsonphotography for capturing this life-changing moment,” she captioned the post.

Aretha’s spirit lives on in Jennifer even after the film’s conclusion. Playing her close friend has allowed the actress to remain close to the late singer, something she’ll always cherish.

“She's still with me, almost every day in some way,” she told Variety. “Sometimes, coming off of the film, while taking pictures with someone, I’m like, ‘Oh wow, I’m smiling like Aretha’ or ‘That response was more Aretha-like.’”

Rylee Johnston

Rylee is a U.S. news writer who previously worked for woman&home and My Imperfect Life covering lifestyle, celebrity, and fashion news. Before joining woman&home and My Imperfect Life, Rylee studied journalism at Hofstra University where she explored her interests in world politics and magazine writing. From there, she dabbled in freelance writing covering fashion and beauty e-commerce for outlets such as the TODAY show, American Spa Magazine, First for Women, and Woman’s World.