Directed by GILLIAN LAUB
Nearly 70 years ago a young girl named Aretha Franklin stood up to perform a gospel song in her father’s church. The soulful notes hit the walls with trembling potency. In 2016, for a live performance for TIME, Franklin returned to that church in Detroit, Michigan, now a woman with the divine power of experience, still humbled in the house of God.
After a six-minute rendition of “Rock of Ages,” the music legend says: “I just felt it. In my spirit today.”
Franklin’s father, the Reverend C. L. Franklin, helped renovate the New Bethel Baptist Church in the early 1950s. For her, the experience of singing in church is like no other. “You have the ethereal feeling there. It is the house of the Lord,” she says. “It is the Supreme Being. So there is no greater space to sing in than the church.”
In 1987, Franklin became the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after hits such as “Respect” and “Natural Woman” have made her a household name. This video, directed by filmmaker and photographer Gillian Laub, is part of TIME’s FIRSTS project, which celebrates the achievements of 46 women who have been the first in their respective fields.
Franklin believes that people can all learn a “little something” from each other. “All music is motivating, inspiring, transporting,” she says. “I didn’t think my songs would become anthems for women. But I’m delighted.”
Aretha Franklin was the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She is one of 46 women to be featured in TIME’s Firsts, celebrating women who are the first in their field. Click here to see the full interview with Aretha Franklin.
Alexandra Genova is a contributor at TIME.com