The New York City subway has been a subject in the lyrics of countless songs, from Duke Ellington’s “Take the ‘A’ Train” to Petula Clark’s “Don’t Sleep on the Subway” to any number of hip-hop and punk-rock songs from the past 40 years. Yet apart from subway musicians — both those officially sanctioned by the Metropolitan Transit Authority, and those who are not — music isn’t an official part of the Big Apple’s underground trains.
But perhaps that’s changing. In the wake of Aretha Franklin’s death after a long battle with cancer last month, unofficial tributes to her began appearing at the Franklin Street subway station in New York City.
Late last month, the MTA took those tributes to heart and posted their own: A giant sign at the Franklin Street station, in official MTA typeface, bearing the word “Respect,” after Franklin’s signature 1967 hit. The tributes were first reported by Brooklyn Vegan (which apparently rides a different line to work than this Variety reporter).
“We wanted to memorialize the outpouring of love from the community for Aretha Franklin,” MTA Director of Communications Jon Weinstein said in a statement, “and in consultation with local leaders we agreed that ‘respect’ was a beautiful tribute and worthy message.”
The system’s Broadway-Lafayette station was taken over by an elaborate David Bowie tribute back in April, although that was technically a large-scale advertisement by Spotify in cooperation with the late artist’s estate, rather than the work of the MTA. Still, it was essentially a museum exhibit dedicated to the singer’s relationship with the city, staged in the SoHo neighborhood he called home for many years, and demonstrated the potential for such large-scale works.
A rep for the MTA did not immediately respond to questions about whether similar tributes can be expected, or whether the Franklin tribute is permanent (which seems unlikely), but seemed pleased by the response to it so far.