New MTA signage at the Franklin MTA stop honoring the Queen of Soul (image courtesy of LeRoy McCarthy)

On Friday, September 1, the morning of Aretha Franklin’s widely-televised homegoing, the MTA installed a number of stickers reading “RESPECT,” a tribute to the late Queen of Soul. The temporary installation is currently plastered in the Franklin Avenue (Brooklyn) and Franklin Street (Manhattan) subway stations.

The decision was inspired by organizer LeRoy McCarthy and muralist Vincent Ballentine, who spraypainted the Brooklyn station in honor of the renowned singer on the day of her passing, August 16.

McCarthy and Ballentine’s stencil on the exterior of the Franklin Avenue Station

McCarthy has worked to honor New York City’s hip-hop legends for years, with Ballentine as his creative collaborator. In 2016, McCarthy spearheaded a mural in Queens celebrating A Tribe Called Quest, following the passing of the legendary group’s member Malik Izaak Taylor (aka Phife Dawg). The organizer has tirelessly advocated for the renaming of a street in Brooklyn, near Biggie Small’s original stomping grounds, after the rapper. He and Ballentine painted a mural to honor Smalls in the interim, collecting over 1,000 signatures, and letters of support from Small’s family, and local businesses, churches, and mosques.

McCarthy told Hyperallergic that when he heard of Franklin’s passing, he knew he wanted to honor her. He says he lives near the Franklin Avenue subway station, so he and Ballentine went with stencils and chalk paint to commemorate the vocalist. He says they chose an easy-to-remove material, knowing that what they were doing was not sanctioned.

(image by and courtesy of @mnguyen)

McCarthy told Hyperallergic, “We went up and down the train platform spraying ‘Aretha’ next to ‘Franklin’ — above it, below it, in different colors. Wherever it said ‘Franklin,’ we tried to put an ‘Aretha,’ next to it.”

The internet was thrilled — local and major news sources picked up on the street art, and posts went viral on social media. The MTA took note. McCarthy got in contact with representative Jon Weinstein, and the MTA designed the set of stickers now plastered in “Franklin” stations.

The arts activists hope that the MTA will soon approve their proposal for a mural on the exterior facade of the Franklin Avenue station. McCarthy says his company, Heterodoxx Inc., also designed a series of MetroCards that he hopes the MTA will roll out to remind passengers to have a little more “respect” on their daily commute.

Proposed “RESPECT” Metrocard (image courtesy of LeRoy McCarthy)

Jasmine Weber is an artist, writer, and former news editor at Hyperallergic. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

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