Is Jennifer Hudson really playing piano and singing in ‘Respect’?

11 August 2021, 18:20

Is Jennifer Hudson really playing piano and singing in ‘Respect’?
Is Jennifer Hudson really playing piano and singing in ‘Respect’? Picture: Universal Pictures

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

Here’s the musical training it took for Jennifer Hudson to embody the Queen of Soul.

Aretha Franklin had the voice of a generation. But she was also a natural session pianist, and her approach to the instrument was always as deep-felt and spiritual as her vocal executions.

This year, actor Jennifer Hudson has the titanic task of depicting the Queen of Soul on screen in new biopic Respect, out Friday 13 August.

And as well as shaping her vocal cords for the moment, Jennifer Hudson also learned piano for the film. Here’s all you need to know about Hudson’s musical training for Respect.

Read more: Why Jennifer Hudson’s ‘Memory’ was the best thing about ‘Cats’ by miles

Trailer for Aretha Franklin biopic 'Respect'

Is Jennifer Hudson really playing piano in ‘Respect’?

Jennifer Hudson said embodying Franklin inspired her to “go back [to] music school”.

Rather than being a prerequisite for the film, Hudson said learning to play piano for Respect was her own choice – and very much a work in progress.

“I started piano lessons. Aretha got me back in music school,” she told People Magazine. “It’s still a process, but the film has made me more passionate about learning an instrument and expressing myself musically.”

Speaking to the New York Times, Hudson said: “It was an actor’s choice to say ‘I cannot play Aretha Franklin without learning some element of the piano’.

“And now, when I’m learning music, I no longer just look at the top line, the melody line, the singing line. I’m considering it as an arranger. What key is that in? What is the progression?”

Read more: Aretha Franklin once stepped in for Pavarotti… and sang ‘Nessun dorma’?

Jennifer Hudson plays Aretha Franklin in biopic 'Respect'
Jennifer Hudson plays Aretha Franklin in biopic 'Respect'. Picture: Universal Pictures

Is Jennifer Hudson really singing in ‘Respect’?

Rather than lip-syncing to a pre-recorded track, Jennifer Hudson did all her own singing live on set for Respect.

Like Franklin, Hudson grew up singing in church. She went to be a star of American Idol, before having her breakthrough as as the tempestuous Effie White in Dreamgirls.

Into Franklin’s recordings, Hudson pours all the same raw passion and pain that she did for Effie.

Director Liesl Tommy told the LA Times: “Aretha was capable of so much power when she sings and so much delicacy and nuance. I wanted the way that we feel listening to her music to be the way that we felt watching the film.

“Another thing that guided me is that she has so much emotion in her singing. I felt that the film should be emotional too because that’s who she was. And even though she was very protective of her private life, her private life is all over her music.”

Watch the trailer for Aretha Franklin concert film 'Amazing Grace'

Respect will be released on 13 August 2021 in the US, and 10 September in the UK.