Aretha Franklin

From New World Encyclopedia

Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin 1968.jpg
Franklin in 1968
BornAretha Louise Franklin
March 25 1942(1942-03-25)
Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.
DiedAugust 16 2018 (aged 76)
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
Resting placeWoodlawn Cemetery
Detroit, Michigan
OccupationSinger, songwriter, actress, pianist, activist
Years active1956 –2018
Home townDetroit, Michigan
Spouse(s)Ted White (m. 1961; div. 1969) Glynn Turman (m. 1978; div. 1984)
official website

Aretha Louise LaTundra Franklin (March 25, 1942 - 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, due to her ability to inject her songs with powerful emotion and conviction. 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 declared her voice to be a natural wonder.

Franklin 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 reached Top 10, and Top 5 positions. Franklin maintained her position in the music recording industry throughout her decades long career. 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.


Aretha Franklin was born in Memphis on March 25, 1942, into a religious family headed by Baptist preacher Reverend C.L. Franklin, one of America's best known Negro preachers, who was called "the most imitated soul preacher in history" by the Reverend 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.[1] 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. She accompanied C.L. on preaching tours, reaching virtually every corner of the United States.

Franklin gave birth to her first two sons while she was still a teenager. Clarence, Jr., named after father, was born on January 28, 1955, and Edward ("Eddie") was born on January 22, 1957. 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.

She married Ted White in 1962. They had one son, Theodore "Teddy" White, Jr. (b. 1969). The marriage ended in 1969 and she 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.

Her youngest son, Kecalf Cunningham, was born in 1970 and is the child of her road manager Ken Cunningham.

Franklin married her second husband, actor Glynn Turman, on April 11, 1978 at her father's church. By marrying Turman, Franklin became stepmother of Turman's three children from a previous marriage. Franklin and Turman separated in 1982 after Franklin returned to Michigan from California, and they divorced in 1984.

Franklin had weight issues for many years. A former chain smoker who struggled with alcoholism, she quit smoking in 1992.[2] She admitted in 1994 that her smoking was "messing with my voice," but after quitting smoking she said later, in 2003, that her weight "ballooned."

In February 2017, Franklin announced that 2017 would be her final year touring. However, she scheduled some 2018 concert dates before cancelling them based on her physician's advice.

On August 13, 2018, Franklin was reported to be gravely ill at her home in Riverfront Towers, Detroit. She was under hospice care and surrounded by friends and family. Stevie Wonder, Jesse Jackson, and ex-husband Glynn Turman visited her on her deathbed. Franklin died at her home on August 16, 2018, aged 76.[3]

Musical Career

Early years

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. 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."

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.

Did you know?
By the end of the 1960s Aretha Franklin had come to be known as "The Queen of Soul"

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 1960s and early 1970s.

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. By this time, Wexler had left Atlantic and their partnership ended.

Later years

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.[4]

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.

Final years

Franklin singing at the 2009 inauguration of President Obama

On January 20, 2009, Franklin made international headlines for performing "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" at President Barack Obama's inaugural ceremony with her church hat becoming a popular topic online. In 2011, under her own label, Aretha's Records, she issued the album Aretha: A Woman Falling Out of Love.

In 2014, Franklin was signed under RCA Records, controller of the Arista catalog and a sister label to Columbia via Sony Music Entertainment, and worked with Clive Davis. On September 29, 2014, Franklin performed to a standing ovation, with Cissy Houston as backup, a compilation of Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" and "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" on the Late Show with David Letterman.[5] Franklin's cover of "Rolling in the Deep" was featured among nine other songs in her first RCA release, Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics, released in October 2014. In doing so, she became the first woman to have 100 songs on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart with the success of her cover of Adele's "Rolling in the Deep", which debuted at number 47 on the chart.[6]

In December 2015, Franklin gave an acclaimed performance of "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" at the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors during the section for honoree Carole King, who co-wrote the song.[7]

She returned to Detroit's Ford Field on Thanksgiving Day 2016 to once again perform the national anthem before the game between the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions. Seated behind the piano, wearing a black fur coat and Lions stocking cap, Franklin gave a rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" that lasted more than four minutes and featured a host of improvizations.[8]

While Franklin canceled some concerts in 2017 due to health reasons, and during an outdoor Detroit show, she asked the audience to "keep me in your prayers," she was still garnering highly favorable reviews for her skill and showmanship.[9]

Franklin's final performance was at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City during Elton John's 25th anniversary gala for the Elton John AIDS Foundation on November 7, 2017.[10]

Music style and image

Franklin waiting to perform at the White House, in 2015

Franklin was considered "one of the giants of soul music, and indeed of American pop as a whole. More than any other performer, she epitomized soul at its most gospel-charged."[11] She had often been described as a great singer and musician due to "vocal flexibility, interpretive intelligence, skillful piano-playing, her ear, her experience."[12] Franklin's voice was described as being a "powerful mezzo-soprano voice". What distinguished her is "not merely the breadth of her catalogue or the cataract force of her vocal instrument; it's her musical intelligence, her way of singing behind the beat, of spraying a wash of notes over a single word or syllable, of constructing, moment by moment, the emotional power of a three-minute song. 'Respect' is as precise an artifact as a Ming vase".[13]

Her skills as a pianist were described as "magic" and "inspirational." Musicians and professionals alike such as Elton John, Keith Richards, Carole King, and Clive Davis were fans of her piano performances.[14]

Civil rights activism

From her time growing up in the home of a prominent African-American preacher to the end of her life, Franklin was immersed and involved in the struggle for civil rights and women's rights. She provided money for civil rights groups, at times covering payroll, and performed at benefits and protests.[15] When Angela Davis was jailed in 1970, Franklin told Jet: "Angela Davis must go free ... Black people will be free. I've been locked up (for disturbing the peace in Detroit) and I know you got to disturb the peace when you can't get no peace. Jail is hell to be in. I'm going to see her free if there is any justice in our courts, not because I believe in communism, but because she's a Black woman and she wants freedom for Black people".[15]

Her songs "Respect" and "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" became anthems of these movements for social change.[16]

Franklin was also a strong supporter for Native American rights; quietly and without fanfare supporting Indigenous Peoples' struggles worldwide, and numerous movements that supported Native American and First Nation cultural rights.[17]


When Rolling Stone listed the "Women in Rock: 50 Essential Albums" in 2002 and again 2012, it listed Franklin's 1967, "I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You", number one.[18] Inducted to the GMA Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2012, Franklin was described as "the voice of the civil rights movement, the voice of black America" and a "symbol of black equality".[2]

"American history wells up when Aretha sings," President Obama explained in response to her performance of "A Natural Woman" at the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors. "Nobody embodies more fully the connection between the African-American spiritual, the blues, R&B, rock and roll—the way that hardship and sorrow were transformed into something full of beauty and vitality and hope."[13]

On June 8, 2017, the City of Detroit honored Franklin's legacy by renaming a portion of Madison Street, between Brush and Witherell Streets, "Aretha Franklin Way."

Upon Franklin's death, numerous celebrities in the entertainment industry and politicians paid tribute to Franklin, including former U.S. president Barack Obama who said she "helped define the American experience".[19] Civil rights activist and minister Al Sharpton called her a "civil rights and humanitarian icon."[20]

A memorial service was held at New Bethel Baptist Church on August 19, 2018. Thousands then paid their respects during the public lying-in-repose at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. The August 31 Homegoing Service held at Greater Grace Temple in Detroit, included multiple tributes by celebrities, politicians, friends and family members and was streamed by some news agencies. Following a telecast procession up Seven Mile Road, Franklin was interred at Woodlawn Cemetery in Detroit.

During the American Music Awards on October 9, 2018, the show was closed by bringing Gladys Knight, Donnie McClurkin, Ledisi, Cece Winans, and Mary Mary together to pay tribute to Aretha Franklin. The "all-star" group performed gospel songs, including renditions from Franklin's 1972 album, Amazing Grace.

A tribute concert, "Aretha! A Grammy Celebration for the Queen of Soul," was organized by CBS and The Recording Academy on January 13, 2019, at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.

At the 61st Annual Grammy Awards, the ceremony was ended with a memorial tribute to the life and career of Franklin. It concluded with a rendition of her 1968 hit, "A Natural Woman (You Make Me Feel Like)," by Fantasia Barrino-Taylor, Andra Day, and Yolanda Adams.


Franklin received numerous awards during her lifetime. These include a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1979, her voice declared a Michigan "natural resource" in 1985,[2] and being the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

Franklin was a Kennedy Center Honoree in 1994, recipient of the National Medal of Arts in 1999, and was bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005. In 2005, she became the second woman to be inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame. She was inducted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame in 2005, and the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame in 2015.

Grammy Awards

Aretha Franklin won eighteen Grammy Awards in total during her career, including the first eight awards given for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance (1968–1975). The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences awarded her a Grammy Legend Award in 1991, then the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994.

Honorary degrees

Franklin received honorary degrees from Harvard University and New York University in 2014, as well as honorary doctorates in music from Princeton University, 2012; Yale University, 2010; Brown University, 2009; University of Pennsylvania, 2007; Berklee College of Music, 2006; New England Conservatory of Music, 1997; and University of Michigan, 1987. She was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by Case Western Reserve University 2011 and Wayne State University in 1990, and an honorary Doctor of Law degree by Bethune–Cookman University in 1975.


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


  • Black Rodeo (documentary) (1972)
  • The Blues Brothers (1980)
  • Listen Up: The Lives of Quincy Jones (documentary) (1990)
  • Blues Brothers 2000 (1998)
  • Tom Dowd & the Language of Music (documentary) (2003)
  • The Zen of Bennett (documentary) (2012)
  • Muscle Shoals (documentary) (2013)
  • Amazing Grace (documentary) (2018)


  1. Jim McAvoy, Aretha Franklin (Black Americans of Achievement) (Chelsea House Publications, 2001, ISBN 978-0791058091), 19-20.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Mark Bego, Aretha Franklin: The Queen of Soul (Da Capo Press, 2001, ISBN 0306809354).
  3. 'Queen of Soul' Aretha Franklin Dies at Home in Detroit Aged 76 Reuters, August 16, 2018. Retrieved June 10, 2019.
  4. Tammy Sill Nesmith, Books: Aretha: From These Roots The New York Times, October 31, 1999. Retrieved June 10, 2019.
  5. Roger Friedman, Aretha Franklin Gets Standing Ovation from Letterman Audience With Knockout Performance Showbiz411, September 30, 2014. Retrieved June 11, 2019.
  6. Aretha Franklin becomes first woman to join R&B chart's 100 club Daily Express, October 9, 2014. Retrieved June 11, 2019.
  7. Simon Hattenstone, Obama cries as Aretha Franklin proves why she's the queen of soul The Guardian, December 30, 2015. Retrieved June 11, 2019.
  8. That time Aretha Franklin dazzled America on Thanksgiving with national anthem Fox, August 13, 2018. Retrieved June 11, 2019.
  9. Adam Graham, Aretha Franklin gives Detroit something to remember The Detroit News, June 11, 2017. Retrieved June 11, 2019.
  10. Joe Lynch, Elton John Celebrates 25 Years of His Foundation With Help From Bill Clinton, Aretha Franklin & Neil Patrick Harris Billboard, November 8, 2017. Retrieved June 11, 2019.
  11. Richie Unterberger, Aretha Franklin Allmusic. Retrieved June 11, 2019.
  12. Matt Dobkin, I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You: Aretha Franklin, Respect, and the Making of a Soul Music Masterpiece (St. Martin's Griffin, 2006, ISBN 978-0312318291).
  13. 13.0 13.1 David Remnick, Soul Survivor:The revival and hidden treasure of Aretha Franklin The New Yorker, March 28, 2016. Retrieved June 10, 2019.
  14. Randy Lewis, The voice was incredible, but Aretha Franklin at the piano was also pure magic Los Angeles Times, August 16, 2018. Retrieved June 11, 2019.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Cady Lang, Aretha Franklin Had a Huge Impact on the Civil Rights Movement Time, August 16, 2018. Retrieved June 11, 2019.
  16. Sandra E. Garcia, Aretha Franklin, Civil Rights Stalwart: 'In Her Voice, We Could Feel Our History' The New York Times, August 17, 2018. Retrieved June 11, 2019.
  17. Vincent Schilling, Suzan Shown Harjo: Remembering a moment in time with the late Aretha Franklin Indian Country Today, August 18, 2018. Retrieved June 11, 2019.
  18. Wade Tatangelo, Aretha Franklin remembered by Sarasota’s Jerry Wexler, her legendary producer Herald Tribune, August 16, 2018. Retrieved June 10 2019.
  19. Aretha Franklin: Tributes flow in for Queen of Soul BBC, August 16, 2018. Retrieved June 10, 2019.
  20. Aretha Franklin: The sound of the civil rights movement BBC, August 16, 2018. Retrieved June 10, 2019.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Bego, Mark. Aretha Franklin: The Queen of Soul. Da Capo Press, 2001. ISBN 0306809354
  • Dobkin, Matt. I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You: Aretha Franklin, Respect, and the Making of a Soul Music Masterpiece. St. Martin's Griffin, 2006. ISBN 978-0312318291
  • Franklin, Aretha, with David Ritz. Aretha: From These Roots. Villard, 1999. ISBN 0375500332
  • McAvoy, Jim. Aretha Franklin (Black Americans of Achievement). Chelsea House Publications, 2001. ISBN 978-0791058091
  • Titon, Jeff Todd. Give Me This Mountain: Life History and Selected Sermons. University of Illinois Press, 1989. ISBN 0252060873

External links

All links retrieved August 12, 2023.


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