In 1980, the blockbuster film The Blues Brothers featured cameos from a bevy of musical titans, including James Brown, Ray Charles, Cab Calloway and John Lee Hooker, but it was a five-minute show-stealing scene starring Aretha Franklin that proved both memorable and pivotal.
Franklin by then was more than a quarter century into her illustrious and influential career, but the tide was turning for the established Queen of Soul with her late Seventies albums — 1977’s Sweet Passion, 1978’s Almighty Fire and 1979’s La Diva – failing to reach the commercial success of some of her previous output.
She was tapped for the role of Mrs. Murphy, a diner waitress whose husband, blues guitarist Matt “Guitar” Murphy (the movie couple reprised their roles for 1998’s Blues Brothers 2000. Murphy died on June 15, 2018), is asked to rejoin Jake (the late John Belushi) and Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) Blues’ band. Her portrayal encompasses plenty of sass. “Now you’re not going back on the road no more,” she retorts when her husband tries to sweet talk her into him leaving. “And you ain’t playing them old two-bit sleazy dives. You living with me now.” When Jake and Elwood claim they are on a mission from God, Mrs. Murphy turns up the heat, telling them to stop with the blasphemy.
She then launches into her classic hit “Think” from 1968’s Aretha Now, completing her throwback performance with backup singing and dancing customers and some humorous finger wagging to emphasize the spine-tingling “Freedom” reprise.
While her husband isn’t persuaded and ends up taking off with the band in the film, Franklin’s appearance introduced her to a new audience, showcased her perfectionist diva status all while wearing pink fuzzy slippers, and is credited with helping reinvigorate her career.
As her fellow film star put it, “The Queen had a wry, skeptical eye on the world but once you got her laughing you were in. What a voice! What a soul,” Aykroyd, the only major living cast member left from the film’s “Think” scene, tweeted. “Angel choirs should prepare for increased rehearsal and discipline.”