Will Aretha's Most Iconic Hat Become a Part of Obama's Legacy?

Aretha Franklin sings during the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America on January 20, 2009 in Washington, DC.
Aretha Franklin sings during the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America on January 20, 2009 in Washington, DC.
Photo: Alex Wong (Getty Images)

If there’s one thing we know about the Queen of Soul, it’s that she loved a “lewk.” Aside from her often extravagant stage attire, Aretha Franklin was fond of a dramatic gesture—the tossing of a train, the shedding of a fur—because, as our loyal reader TheRealMarthaJones3.0 accurately noted, “Auntie understood DRAMA! EMOTION! and EFFECT!”


Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration was no different; when Franklin took the dais to sing “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” she did so wearing a gray felt pillbox hat with an oversized, bedazzled bow that nearly stole the show from Franklin herself.

The hat, which has lived on in countless memes in the near decade since, was a custom creation by Luke Song of Mr. Song Millinery in Detroit, a hometown favorite of Franklin’s (their site’s homepage currently features a touching tribute to the star). The bow was adorned with Swarovski crystals, because only the best for the Queen.

Speaking with Page Six, Song revealed that prior to the inauguration, Franklin walked in without notice and actually commissioned three designs for the event. All were molded in the same gray felt to match the coat she’d decided upon—one reportedly included a fur piece, and the other was a top hat (which we would’ve loved to see her wear at some point, just on GP).

“They decided at the location which looked best and framed her face, and the rest is history,” Song told Page Six.

In the years since, Song has sold replicas of Franklin’s famous hat as he does with most of his designs; retailing them for between $100 and $200 each. One copy is currently in residence at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as part of its traveling exhibit, “Louder Than Words: Rock, Power, Politics.” As for the original, Song told Page Six he assumes it’s in the possession of Franklin’s estate.


But with Franklin’s passing, multiple outlets are wondering if her already-iconic hat will be given the place in history it deserves. Should it take up permanent residence in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Does it deserve a place of honor in the “Blacksonian” (the National Museum of African American History and Culture)? Should it be enshrined in Franklin’s beloved Detroit at their Museum of African American History?

Apparently, Franklin had a very clear idea where Song’s creation should ultimately live: “She told me she wanted it at the Barack Obama Presidential Library, and I think that is exactly where it should be,” he told Page Six. “[Franklin] loved Obama, I know, and I personally couldn’t think of any better place for it.”


Honestly, we can’t either; and while representatives for the yet-to-open institution didn’t comment or confirm to Page Six, we all know how much the Obamas reciprocated that love. A statement issued yesterday by President Obama made clear that Franklin deserves her place in history; here’s hoping he gives her the one she purportedly wanted:

America has no royalty. But we do have a chance to earn something more enduring. Born in Memphis and raised in Detroit, Aretha Franklin grew up performing gospel songs in her father’s congregation. For more than six decades since, every time she sang, we were all graced with a glimpse of the divine. Through her compositions and unmatched musicianship, Aretha helped define the American experience. In her voice, we could feel our history, all of it and in every shade—our power and our pain, our darkness and our light, our quest for redemption and our hard-won respect. She helped us feel more connected to each other, more hopeful, more human. And sometimes she helped us just forget about everything else and dance.

Aretha may have passed on to a better place, but the gift of her music remains to inspire us all. May the Queen of Soul rest in eternal peace.

Maiysha Kai is managing editor of The Glow Up, host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast and Big Beauty Tuesdays, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. May I borrow some sugar?



The Queen has spoken. Damn right, display it in all its glory at the Obama Library per her wishes. Speaking of Aretha, I could not stop laughing at this story: