For Variety‘s cover story on Jennifer Hudson and Carole King, the two met up via Zoom — with the “Respect” star in Los Angeles and King in her longtime hometown of Ketchum, Idaho — to discuss their separate points of connection with Aretha Franklin and how they came to connect with one another in co-writing a new song for the end credits of the Franklin biopic.
“You gave yourself to being her. And you’re not her,” says King. “You’re Jennifer Hudson and you have your own wonderful magic. You brought your wonderful magic to portray her magic. And you know, I can’t speak for her because I haven’t spoken with her up there in heaven, but I know she’s happy.”
King talks about “writing on assignment” to come up with the new number for “Respect,” as she did back in the day when, in 1967, she and then-husband Gerry Goffin wrote “(You Make Me Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman” at the behest of Franklin’s producer.
“I got my start writing on assignment. And of course” with that signature ballad, “Jerry Wexler’s driving up in his limo on Broadway and Gerry Goffin and I are walking, you know, and he pulls up alongside us and he says, ‘Hey, I got a title for a song for Aretha. You want to write it?’ ‘Uh, yeah.’ And we went home and we listened to WNJR, which was the R&B station emanating from Jersey, which is where we actually lived at the time. And that’s when we wrote ‘Natural Woman.'”
Of working remotely on the song “Here I Am (Singing My Way Home),” Hudson says, “What better way to pay homage to Ms. Franklin than to bring in Carole King. I feel like it’s like the icing on the cake, the cherry on top. When I heard that idea, I tell you, I completely lost it, like, oh my God, this is genius of an idea. And again, my only goal is to meet Ms. Franklin’s request and add every element that was a part of her, her life, her legacy, her story. And I mean, if that’s not Carole King, I don’t know what is. Having that element added was like the final button on the film.”