Aretha Franklin

Aretha Louise LaTundra Franklin (born March 25, 1942) (died August 16, 2018) was an American soul, R&B and gospel singer born in Memphis, Tennessee and raised in Detroit, Michigan. She has been dubbed "The Queen Of Soul" and "Lady Soul." Renowned for her soul and R&B recordings, she was also adept at gospel, jazz, rock, blues, pop, and even opera. She was regarded as one of the best regarded vocalists ever by Rolling Stone Magazine and VH1, due to her ability to inject her songs powerful emotion and conviction. [1] The second most honored female popular singer in Grammy history, Franklin won eighteen Grammy awards, including an unprecedented eleven for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. The state of Michigan has declared her voice to be a natural wonder.

Franklin has had two number one hit songs on the Billboard Hot 100, "Respect" written by Otis Redding, and released by Atlantic Records in 1967, and her 1987 duet with George Michael, "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)" written by Dennis Morgan and Simon Climie. Many of her singles have reached Top 10, and Top 5 positions. Franklin maintained her position in the music recording industry throughout her decades long career beginning in 1956. Along with 18 Grammy awards, the honors bestowed during her lifetime include induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, the Kennedy Center Honors in 1994, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005, induction into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2012 and the Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame in 2015. Franklin died at home in Detroit surrounded by family and friends.



Early Years

Aretha Franklin was born in Memphis in a religious family headed by Baptist preacher Rev C.L. Franklin, one of America's best known Negro preachers, who was called "the most imitated soul preacher in history" by the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Aretha's mother, Barbara, was a talented gospel singer in her own right. It is mistakenly believed that Barbara left the family for unexplained reasons when Aretha was only six years old, dying four years later without seeing the family again. Contrary to popular notion, her mother did not abandon her children. Franklin recalled seeing her mother in Buffalo during the summer, and Barbara frequently visited her children in Detroit.[2] A few weeks before her tenth birthday, Franklin's mother died on March 7, 1952. She recalled memories of her mother fondly saying, "I was young but I remember how warm and beautiful she was," Franklin wrote, "I was very close to her and I can't say which, if either of my parents was the greater influence on me."

The family lived in Buffalo, New York for a short time before moving to Detroit, Michigan when Aretha was seven. As a child, Aretha and her sisters, Carolyn and Erma, sang at their father's Detroit-area church. One of their two brothers, Cecil, became a minister like their father, but was also Franklin's manager for a time. Their other brother, Vaughn, became a career Air Force pilot.

In Detroit, C.L.'s preaching talents gained him a national reputation. His sermons were broadcast nationally over the radio waves, and scores of his live sermons were eventually released on popular LP recordings. Because of her father's fame as a preacher, Aretha's talents as a gospel singer gained attention while she was still a young girl. She accompanied C.L. on preaching tours, reaching virtually every corner of the United States. In 1956 she began recording for the Checker/Battle label, which released a collection of her songs under the title "The Gospel Soul of Aretha Franklin."

Franklin gave birth to her first two sons while she was still a teenager. Clarence, Jr. was born when she was 15, and Edward ("Eddie") was born when she was 16. She dropped out of high school soon after Eddie's birth. Her grandmother took in her sons to help Aretha move on in her career.

Aretha Goes Pop

In her late teens, Aretha decided to cross over into secular music and signed with Columbia Records after meeting legendary A&R man John Hammond. In the early 1960s, she had a few mildly popular songs, most notably "Rock-a-bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody." Columbia wanted her as a jazz singer, but the results never gave full rein to Aretha's talents.

Book cover of Aretha Franklin's autobiography.

After moving to Atlantic Records in 1967, Franklin teamed up with producers Jerry Wexler and Arif Mardin, resulting in some of the most influential R&B recordings of the 1960s, including the evocative "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)." Her album of the same name is considered a classic. By the late 1960s, Franklin had earned the nickname "The Queen of Soul", having become an internationally famous artist and a symbol of pride for the Black community. Franklin said of this period, "When I went to Atlantic, they just sat me down at the piano and the hits started coming."

Among her most successful hit singles from this era were "Chain of Fools", "You Make Me Feel (Like a Natural Woman)," "Think," "Baby I Love You," "The House That Jack Built," and "Respect. " The latter, a cover of an Otis Redding single not only became her signature song, but also served as an anthem for the Women's Liberation movement of the late 60s and early 70s.

Franklin married Ted White in 1962. They had one son, Theodore "Teddy" White, Jr. (b. 1969). The marriage ended in 1969 and she has always refused to answer questions about it. A Time Magazine cover story in 1968 led to a lawsuit from Ted White over allegations that he had roughed her up in public. Always concerned with her privacy, the episode made her guard her personal life even more, and she gave no interviews for several. Despite the divorce, White became her manager during her years with Columbia Records.

After the Best Female R&B Vocal Performance category was introduced to the Grammy Awards in 1968, Aretha won successively the first eight ever awarded trophies in that category (from 1968-1975) and added three more to her collection in the 1980s. Surprisingly she never made it to number one in the United Kingdom pop charts — her best result being a number four with her version of Burt Bacharach's "I Say a Little Prayer" in 1968.

Aretha released several more hits in the 1970s in various genres, including notable covers of songs by The Beatles ("Eleanor Rigby"), The Band ("The Weight"), Simon & Garfunkel ("Bridge Over Troubled Water), Sam Cooke and The Drifters. Live at Fillmore West and Amazing Grace were two of her most influential full-length releases. Her band for the Fillmore record included musicians King Curtis, Bernard Purdie and Billy Preston. Amazing Grace was a double LP of live gospel music recorded in a Los Angeles Baptist church.

In the early 1970s, her music mellowed slightly, and she continued the successful relationship with Wexler and Mardin while beginning to take a greater role in producing her work. A partnership with Quincy Jones led to a album in 1973 Hey Now Hey (The Other Side of the Sky). Despite disappointing sales, the album produced a standout track "Angel", written by her sister Carolyn. Aretha's last collaboration with Wexler was the Atlantic LP You was released in 1975.

Franklin released several additional LPs for Atlantic after You including Sparkle in 1976, which yielded a #1 R&B single, "(Giving Him) Something He Can Feel." Other albums included Sweet Passion, Almighty Fire (also produced by Curtis Mayfield) and La Diva.

Later Career

By this time, Wexler had left Atlantic and their partnership ended. Despite working with artists of the stature of Curtis Mayfield, Franklin's popularity and critical success waned during the mid to late 1970s and the 1980s, though she scored several hits, often with partners (such as Luther Vandross). Her most notable 1980s hit was the dance song "Freeway of Love", which charted in 1985. Most critics dismiss her post-Atlantic material as far inferior to the legendary recordings of the mid to late sixties.

She had a memorable film role in the original Blues Brothers movie of 1980, performing a sassy version of "Think" as the wife of the guitar player (Matt "Guitar" Murphy) whom the brothers attempt to woo back out on the road. She reprised the role in the 1998 sequel. Also in 1998, she surprisingly stepped in at the last minute to sing the standard aria Nessun Dorma (Puccini's Turandot) at that year's Grammy telecast when Luciano Pavarotti took ill.[1]

Franklin won another Grammy for her song "Wonderful" in 2004 and in 2006 was awarded the Best Traditional R&B Vocal award for "A House Is Not a Home," a track from the Luther Vandross tribute "So Amazing."

Franklin joined Aaron Neville and Dr. John in performing the National Anthem prior to Super Bowl XL on February 5, 2006, along with a 150-voice choir.

Awards and achievements

  • On January 3, 1987 she became the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
  • In September, 1999 she was awarded The National Medal of Arts by President Clinton
  • In 2005, she was awarded The Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bush
  • In 2005 she became the second woman to be inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame.

Grammy Awards

As of 2006 Aretha Franklin had won eighteen Grammy Awards in total during her career, and holds the record for most Best Female R&B Vocal Performance wins with 11 to her name (including eight consecutive awards from 1968-1975-the first eight ever awarded in that category).

Year Category Genre Title
1968 Best Rhythm And Blues Recording R&B Respect
1968 Best Female R&B Vocal Performance R&B Respect
1969 Best Female R&B Vocal Performance R&B Chain Of Fools
1970 Best Female R&B Vocal Performance R&B Share Your Love With Me
1971 Best Female R&B Vocal Performance R&B Don't Play That Song
1972 Best Female R&B Vocal Performance R&B Bridge Over Troubled Water
1973 Best Female R&B Vocal Performance R&B Young, Gifted and Black
1973 Best Soul Gospel Performance Gospel Amazing Grace
1974 Best Female R&B Vocal Performance R&B Master Of Eyes
1975 Best Female R&B Vocal Performance R&B Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing
1982 Best Female R&B Vocal Performance R&B Hold On I'm Comin'
1986 Best Female R&B Vocal Performance R&B Freeway Of Love
1988 Best Female R&B Vocal Performance R&B Aretha
1988 Best R&B Vocal By Duo Or Group R&B I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)
With George Michael
1991 Legend Award General
2004 Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance R&B Wonderful
2006 Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance R&B House Is Not A Home


For a detailed account of Aretha Franklin releases, see the Aretha Franklin discography.

Notable albums:

  • 1967 I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)
  • 1967 Aretha Arrives
  • 1968 Lady Soul
  • 1968 Aretha Now
  • 1971 Young, Gifted and Black
  • 1972 Amazing Grace
  • 1973 Hey Now Hey (The Other Side of the Sky)
  • 1974 With Everything I Feel in Me
  • 1974 Let Me in Your Life
  • 1975 You
  • 1976 Sparkle
  • 1978 Almighty Fire
  • 1982 Jump to It
  • 1983 Get It Right'
  • 1985 Who's Zoomin' Who?
  • 1998 A Rose Is Still A Rose

Top 10 US Hot 100 singles:

Year Title Peak
1967 "I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)" 9
1967 "Respect" 1
1967 "Baby I Love You" 4
1967 "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" 8
1967 "Chain Of Fools" 2
1968 "(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You've Been Gone" 5
1968 "Think" 7
1968 "The House That Jack Built" 6
1968 "I Say a Little Prayer" 10
1971 "Bridge Over Troubled Water" / "Brand New Me" 6
1971 "Spanish Harlem" 2
1971 "Rock Steady" 9
1972 "Day Dreaming" 5
1973 "Until You Come Back to Me (That's What I'm Gonna Do)" 3
1985 "Who's Zoomin Who?" 7
1985 "Freeway of Love" 3
1987 "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)" (with George Michael) 1


  • The Blues Brothers (1980)
  • Blues Brothers 2000 (1998)
  • Immaculate Funk (2000) (documentary)
  • Tom Dowd & the Language of Music (2003) (documentary)
  • Singing in the Shadow: The Children of Rock Royalty (2003) (documentary)

See also

  • List of best-selling music artists
  • List of number-one hits (United States)
  • List of artists who reached number one on the Hot 100 (U.S.)
  • List of number-one dance hits (United States)
  • List of artists who reached number one on the U.S. Dance chart


  • Bego, Mark. Aretha Franklin: The Queen of Soul. Da Capo Press, 2001. ISBN 0306809354
  • Franklin, Aretha, with David Ritz. Aretha From These Roots. Villard, 1999. ISBN 0375500332
  • Titon, Jeff Todd. Give Me This Mountain: Life History and Seledted Sermons. University of Illinois Press, 1989. ISBN 0252060873

External links

  1. VH1 Unveils List of Greatest Female Rock 'n' Rollers.
  2. Aretha Franklin (Black Americans of Achievement) by Jim McAvoy (2000-09-02) 2002, pp. 19-20.


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