‘Respect’: Did Mary J. Blige’s Character Dinah Washington Really Blow Up at Aretha Franklin?

CheatSheet.com, By Chris Malone, Posted September 1st 2021

Mary J. Blige has played many memorable characters throughout her career, from Monet Tejada in Power Book II: Ghost to Cha-Cha in The Umbrella Academy. In 2021, the Academy Award winner played legendary singer Dinah Washington in the Aretha Franklin biopic Respect.

Mary J. Blige played Dinah Washington in ‘Respect’

Dinah Washington rose to fame in the 1950s and ’60s. She was a singer known for several genres including blues, jazz, and R&B.

In 2021, Washington was brought to life on screen by Mary J. Blige in the Aretha Franklin biopic Respect. Franklin’s connection to Washington dated back to her childhood, and she even paid tribute to the blues icon with the tribute album Unforgettable in 1964.

Dinah Washington knew Aretha Franklin as a girl

In Respect, viewers get a look at the relationship that Franklin and Washington had. Franklin first met Washington at a young age, when she would sing for family and friends at home and at church.

Washington had a feeling that Franklin was destined for success. According to music producer Quincy Jones, when Franklin was still young, Washington told him that she thought Franklin was the “next one.”

In Respect, however, Washington loses her cool at a live show of Franklin’s after she started singing her signature song, “Unforgettable.” She flips a table and tells her not to sing any of her songs, then goes backstage to apologize.

Dinah Washington blew up at Etta James


This anecdote from the movie never actually happened, but it was based on an event that actually did.

In the biography of Franklin, Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin, author David Ritz wrote that soul singer Etta James told him she was playing a small club in Providence, Rhode Island, when she heard Washington would be coming to her midnight show.

“With that in mind, I decided to open with her big hit, ‘Unforgettable,’” James recalled. “I didn’t even get to the chorus when I heard this earth-shattering crash. Dinah had got up off her chair, swept all the glasses and plates off her table, and was pointing at me, screaming, ‘B—-, don’t you ever sing the Queen’s songs when the Queen is right in front of you!’”

Later, Washington came into James’ dressing room and apologized for blowing up at her. “’Sorry, I lost it for a minute,’” James recalled Washington saying, “‘but look, girl, you learned a valuable lesson. If a star’s around, you don’t ever sing the star’s songs. Ever.’”

Aretha Franklin ‘resented’ comments from Dinah Washington

According to the biography, Franklin had an encounter with Washington as well once she was older and an established recording artist of her own. Franklin received a visit from Washington in her dressing room after one of her shows at a club in Detroit.

Washington allegedly began to criticize Franklin for the mess in the room, which rubbed Franklin the wrong way. “Aretha deeply resented the remarks and thought Dinah was acting like a diva,” Ritz wrote.