Aretha Franklin on the Hat That Created a Worldwide Sensation

Aretha Franklin performs at the inauguration on January 20, 2009. Ron Edmonds / AP

Three years ago I looked everywhere for a hat to wear to President Obama’s inauguration. I was so excited to sing, because it was such an important moment for our country. It had to match my collarless and double-breasted coat, similar to some of the coats that Jackie O. used to wear. It had to be just the right chapeau. I talked to all the houses in Europe in my search for the perfect accessory. I compared the hat selections of Lanvin, Dior, and Chanel from Paris. I even considered ones from Milan, and I just didn’t see what I was looking for.

I looked and looked and was beginning to think that I’d never find a hat that would be just right. Finally, I went to one of the local dealers in Detroit, Mr Song Millinery, and I saw it. I said, “That’s the hat that I want!” They had to work on it a little bit, because I wanted it edged in tiny rhinestones. And the bow was on the left side, but I wanted it on the right. I have a favorite side, and the right side is my favorite. I just think it photographs better. The mistake I made was that I was looking at famous designers worldwide for something that ended up being right down the street.

So I picked it up and wore it at the inauguration—and that hat created a worldwide sensation. People were calling me from Europe! At first, I was calling them, looking for the hat, and then they were calling and writing about how much they loved it. That was one fabulous hat, and everybody liked it. I think it’s because it was so stylish and gorgeous. The hat took on a life of its own. I understand that the hat has its own Facebook page. As a matter of fact, I went to the NAACP dinner in Detroit recently, and a young lady came to shake hands with me, and she had on the same hat, only it was white.

It seems as if this hat may even end up in a museum one day. I loved my hat, and the lesson I learned is that sometimes you could search for something long and hard, until you realize that what you’re looking for is right at home.

But did it help my performance? Oh, please.

Interview by Ramin Setoodeh

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