Before presenting the MTV Video Music Awards’ prestigious video of the year honor, Madonna took the opportunity to pay tribute to Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul who passed way at age 76 on Aug 16 — and who had more of a hand in Madonna’s career than fans might expect.
In a lengthy but heartfelt speech, the iconic pop singer remembered performing Franklin’s career favorite “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” a cappella at an audition for back-up dancers in New York City, after leaving Detroit at age 18 with “35 dollars in my pocket.”
Though Madonna didn’t mention the “French disco sensation” whom she auditioned to tour with by name, her speech presumably refers to Patrick Hernandez, who famously invited a young Madonna on his 1979 world tour. “When they asked me if I had sheet music and a song prepared, I panicked,” Madonna remembered. “Fortunately, one of my favorite albums was Lady Soul by Aretha Franklin.”
“None of this could have happened, would have happened, without this lady of soul,” Madonna continued. “She influenced so many people in this house tonight, in this room tonight, and I want to thank you, Aretha, for empowering all of us. R-E-S-P-E-C-T, long live the queen.”
Before handing off the video of the year award to this year’s winner, Camila Cabello for “Havana,” Madonna also recalled her iconic 1984 VMAs performance of “Like A Virgin,” where she lost a shoe and was told by her manager that her “career was over.”
Watch footage of Madonna’s emotional speech paying tribute to Franklin below.