Who Was Aretha Franklin?
Aretha Franklin was born in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1942. A gifted singer and pianist, Franklin toured with her father's traveling revival show and later visited New York, where she signed with Columbia Records.
Franklin went on to release several popular singles, many of which are now considered classics. In 1987 she became the first female artist to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in 2008 she won her 18th Grammy Award, making her one of the most honored artists in Grammy history.
Early Life & Career
The fourth of five children, Aretha Louise Franklin was born on March 25, 1942, in Memphis, Tennessee, to Baptist preacher Reverend Clarence La Vaughan "C. L." Franklin and Barbara Siggers Franklin, a gospel singer.
Franklin's parents separated by the time she was six, and four years later her mother succumbed to a heart attack. Guided by C. L.'s preaching assignments, the family relocated to Detroit, Michigan. C. L. eventually landed at New Bethel Baptist Church, where he gained national renown as a preacher.
Aretha Franklin's musical gifts became apparent at an early age. Largely self-taught, she was regarded as a child prodigy. A gifted pianist with a powerful voice, Franklin got her start singing in front of her father's congregation.
By the age of 14, she had recorded some of her earliest tracks at his church, which were released by a small label as the album Songs of Faith in 1956. She also performed with C. L.'s traveling revival show and, while on tour, befriended gospel greats such as Mahalia Jackson, Sam Cooke and Clara Ward.
But life on the road also exposed Franklin to adult behaviors, and at the age of 14, she became a mother for the first time with a son, Clarence. A second child, Edward, followed two years later — with both sons taking her family's name. Franklin would later have two more sons: Ted White, Jr. and Kecalf Cunningham.
Albums & Songs
In 1967, the album I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You) was released, and the first song on the album, "Respect" — an empowered cover of an Otis Redding track — reached No. 1 on both the R&B and pop charts and won Aretha her first two Grammy Awards.
She also had Top 10 hits with "Baby I Love You,'' "Think," "Chain of Fools,'' "I Say a Little Prayer," "(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You've Been Gone" and "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman." Dubbed the 'Queen of Soul’ Franklin's chart dominance soon earned her the title Queen of Soul, while at the same time she also became a symbol of black empowerment during the Civil Rights Movement.
In 1968 Franklin was enlisted to perform at the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during which she paid tribute to her father's fallen friend with a heartfelt rendition of "Precious Lord." Later that year, she was also selected to sing the national anthem to begin the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
Franklin's success continued throughout the 1970s, as she branched out to work with producers such as Curtis Mayfield and Quincy Jones and expanded her repertoire to include rock and pop covers. Along the way, she took home eight consecutive Grammy Awards for Best R&B Female Vocal Performance, the last coming for her 1974 single "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing."
In 1987 Franklin became the first female artist to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and was also awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Detroit. That same year, she released the album One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, which won the Grammy for Best Soul Gospel Performance.
Following another relatively quiet period in her career, in 1993, Franklin was invited to sing at the inauguration of Bill Clinton, and the following year she received both a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and Kennedy Center Honors. She would also be the focus of multiple documentaries and tributes as the decade progressed.
In 2003 Franklin released her final studio album on Arista, So Damn Happy, and left the label to found Aretha Records. Two years later, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and became the second woman ever to be inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame.
In 2008 she received her 18th Grammy Award for "Never Gonna Break My Faith" — a collaboration with Mary J. Blige — and was tapped to sing at the 2009 presidential inauguration of Barack Obama.
With 18 Grammys under her belt, Franklin is one of the most honored artists in Grammy history, ranked among the likes of Alison Krauss, Adele and Beyoncé Knowles. In 2011 Franklin released her first album on her own label, A Woman Falling Out of Love.
To support the project, she performed several concerts, including a two-night stint at the famed Radio City Music Hall in New York. With fans and critics alike impressed with her performances, she successfully proved that the Queen of Soul still reigned supreme.
In 2014 Franklin underscored that point with Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics, which reached No. 13 on the pop charts and No. 3 R&B.
In February 2017, the 74-year-old Queen of Soul told Detroit radio station WDIV Local 4 that she was collaborating with Stevie Wonder to release a new album.
“I must tell you, I am retiring this year," she said in the interview, adding: "I feel very, very enriched and satisfied with respect to where my career came from and where it is now. I’ll be pretty much satisfied, but I’m not going to go anywhere and just sit down and do nothing. That wouldn’t be good either.”
In January 2018, it was announced that Franklin had hand-picked singer and actress Jennifer Hudson to play her in an upcoming biopic.
On August 12, 2018, it was reported that a "gravely ill" Franklin was bedridden in her Detroit home, surrounded by family and friends. As news of her condition spread, more luminaries paid a visit to express their well wishes, including Stevie Wonder and Jesse Jackson.
Four days later, on the morning of August 16th, Franklin succumbed to her illness, which her family revealed to be pancreatic cancer.