Aretha Franklin Was Already Famous, But Her Hat-Maker Wasn't When Detroit milliner Luke Song made Aretha Franklin's now-iconic 2009 inaugural hat — you know, the one with the big bow? — he had no idea he'd be making thousands more.
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Aretha Franklin Was Already Famous, But Her Hat-Maker Wasn't

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Aretha Franklin Was Already Famous, But Her Hat-Maker Wasn't

Aretha Franklin Was Already Famous, But Her Hat-Maker Wasn't

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The first Obama Inauguration was memorable for a number of reasons. It was a history-making moment with the swearing in of the first African-American president. The weather was also memorable. Temperatures were several degrees below freezing that day. And then there was Aretha Franklin's astonishing hat: gray felt with a giant rhinestone-studded bow, saucily tilted to the right.

As NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates reports, that hat launched the career of its creator, Luke Song, on the international stage.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, BYLINE: In 2009, before Barack Hussein Obama took the oath of office to become the nation's 44th president, Aretha Franklin sailed to the microphone. The rhinestones in the huge bow on her hat sent rainbow sparks into the frigid air as she sang.


ARETHA FRANKLIN: (Singing) My country ' tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.

BATES: Her hat became a sensation, making its creator, 40-year-old Luke Song, instantly famous. The soft-spoken designer was born in Seoul, and is a second-generation hat-maker. He said he thought the hat might give his family's Detroit business some attention.

LUKE SONG: I expected a slight spike in our sales, maybe a couple of interviews. I did not account for the Internet. It was the most craziest time ever.

BATES: Crazy in a good way. Ms. Franklin's hat was so popular, it had its own Facebook page. People created memes putting themselves under the famous oversized bow. Celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres wore their own copies as a fond spoof.


ELLEN DEGENERES: I mean, the next thing you know, we're in US Weekly, Ellen, Aretha: who wore it better? And...

BATES: The hat is actually a specially modified version of something that Luke Song was already selling, and it was made as a backup. Originally, Ms. Franklin had planned to wear fur as a buffer against the icy air. But Song warned her that fur was hard to light and might cast shadows on her face. So they planned an extra hat. In 2009, Ms. Franklin told NPR's Michel Martin about the changes she ordered.


FRANKLIN: There was too many rhinestones on the bow for the early morning hour. I said, take all of the rhinestones off, but leave just a touch of the stones. Just outline the bow with the stones.

BATES: The hat was instantly in demand. Song's company sold thousands in the Detroit area alone, but orders poured in from around the world. Ms. Franklin's gray felt hat was one-of-a-kind, valued at about $500. But the off-the-rack version in several fabrics sold for under $200, and remains a bestseller to this day. Luke Song says he got scores of orders from women late last year who wanted bow hats for a special occasion.

SONG: A lot of them tell me in the notes that they want to wear it to the Inauguration itself in Washington, D.C.

BATES: Song hopes to see a few of his hats on the Mall today. He'll be watching the live broadcast from Paris, where he's on a business trip, and where they appreciate a fine hat. Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.


FRANKLIN: (Singing) 'Cause you make me feel, you make me feel, you make me feel like a natural woman.

MONTAGNE: Aretha Franklin. The headliners for today's swearing-in ceremony should pack a punch, too. Beyonce is performing the national anthem. James Taylor will also be there, singing "America the Beautiful." And taking a crack at "My Country 'Tis of Thee" is the first American Idol: Kelly Clarkson. That's on top of the dozens of pop stars and musicians who will be performing at tonight's Inaugural balls.

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