She is universally acclaimed as the “Queen of Soul” and one of the greatest singers in history. Aretha Franklin has proved how talented she is through a successful career as an artist. She played piano, and her powerful voice could sing any style of music. She made history when she was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Although she was born with a God-given gift, the singer didn’t have the easiest childhood, especially in her early years.
After her father gave her his blessing, Franklin decided to move to New York and pursue a career in music. That’s when she signed with Columbia Records, and her dreams started to come true. Throughout her impressive career, Aretha released a string of popular songs that are now considered classics. This is the life of Aretha Franklin. Her childhood, family, career, and devastating death. Plus, we included some fun facts you probably didn’t know about the singer.
Aretha Louise Franklin was born on March 25th, 1942, in Memphis, Tennessee. She is the fourth of five children to Barbara Siggers Franklin and Reverend Clarence La Vaughan “C.L.” Franklin, a Baptist preacher. Her mother was a gospel singer, so Aretha grew up surrounded by music.
Unfortunately, when Aretha was just six years old, her parents split up, and by the time she was ten, her mother tragically died of a heart attack. That’s when the family decided to move to Detroit, Michigan, where C.L. found himself at the New Bethel Baptist Church. That’s where he gained national fame as a preacher. No matter the difficulties in her early years, one thing was always evident. She was born with a musical gift.
Since an extremely early age, Aretha had a powerful voice. She was mostly self-taught and considered a child prodigy. Not only did Aretha have an unbelievable voice, but she was also a skilled pianist. She quickly started singing in front of her father’s congregation. She was going to be a star, and everyone knew it.
By the time she was just 14 years old, Franklin had started recording some of her earliest tracks at her father’s church. A small label decided to release the songs in an album called Songs of Faith in 1956. She also got to join her father and performed with his traveling revival show. While she was on tour, she made friends with Mahalia Jackson, Sam Cooke, and Clara Ward.
Despite growing up in a church, Aretha was exposed to adult behaviors when she was on the road traveling. She became a mother at 12 years old when she gave birth to her son, Clarence. Being a teen mom couldn’t have been easy. Her sister Erma said that “She was an excellent student who did well in her all classes.”
It was two years later when she had another baby named Edward. Both of her sons took her family’s name, Franklin. Soon after Edward was born, Aretha dropped out of school to focus on her music career. Erma said that this was the beginning of Aretha’s life of “silent suffering.” She later had two more children, Ted White, Jr., and Kecalf Cunningham.
After a short break, Franklin went right back into performing. She was inspired by Cooke and Dinah Washington to get into the pop and blues territory. In 1960, she decided to go to New York, where she was turned down by Motown, RCA, and several other record labels. She ultimately signed with Columbia Records, and in 1961, her album, Aretha was released.
Not one, but two songs from her album made it to the Top 10 of the R&B charts. That same year, she experienced even more success with the single “Rock-a-bye Your Baby” with a Dixie Melody, which crossed over to number 37 on pop charts. Aretha enjoyed moderate success with her recordings for the next few years, but none of it showed her incredible talent.
In 1966, Franklin along with her new husband and manager, Ted White, decided it was time for a change. That’s when the singer signed with Atlantic Records. Immediately after signing her, producer, Jerry Wexler sent Franklin to the Florence Alabama Musical Emporium (FAME) recording studios. Aretha recorded the single “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)” with the legendary Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section.
The song featured session guitarists Eric Clapton and Duane Allman. Apparently, during the recording session, Aretha and White left abruptly after white clashed with one of the band members. The song became a massive hit. When she re-emerged in New York, she finished the uncompleted track “Do Right Woman – Do Right Man.”
In 1967 and 1968, she hit her stride and came out with a number of hit songs that would ultimately become classics. She finally got to combine her gospel roots and outstanding voice in a pop framework. Franklin released her album “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)”and her first hit single was “Respect.”
What many people don’t know is that ‘Respect’ is a cover of an Otis Redding song. The track reached number one on both the R&B and pop charts. The incredible song even earned Aretha her first two Grammy Awards. Some of her other top 10 hits were “Baby I Love you,” “Think,” “Chain of Fools,” “Since You’ve Been Gone,” and “Natural Woman.”
Franklin dominated the charts and was given the title, “Queen of Soul.” At that time, Franklin also became a symbol of black empowerment during the civil rights movement. She was enlisted to perform at Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral, and she sang a beautiful rendition of “Precious Lord” as a tribute for her fallen friend.
Later that year, Franklin was the singer chosen to sing the national anthem to start the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Although she was gaining newfound success, Franklin was struggling in her personal life. In 1969, she and White got divorced. Luckily, that didn’t interfere with her steady rise. The new decade brought new hit singles, including “Spanish Harlem,” “Don’t Play That Song,” and “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.”
The passing of Mahalia Jackson spurred Franklin to regain interest in gospel music. For her 1972 album “Amazing Grace,” she returned to her gospel origins. “Amazing Grace” was the best-selling gospel album at the time and went on to sell more than 2 million copies. Throughout the 1970s, Franklin’s success continued.
She branched out and worked with producers like Curtis Mayfield and Quincy Jones. Franklin was also recording rock and pop covers. The talented singer ultimately won eight Grammy Awards for Best R&B Female Vocal Performance, which is pretty impressive. The last one was in 1974, for her hit single “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing.” At this point, Aretha Franklin established herself as an artist, and the world saw her true talent.
Unfortunately, by 1975 the disco craze happened, and Aretha’s sound started fading into the background. During this time, other young black singers such as Chaka Khan and Donna Summer started to emerge. In 1976, she had a brief break from her slumping sales thanks to the soundtrack for the Warner Brothers film “Sparkle.”
The soundtrack reached the top of the R&B tracks and made the Top 20 in the pop genre! In 1978, the singer was invited to sing at the presidential inauguration of Jimmy Carter. Then in 1978, Franklin married actor Glynn Turman. Sadly, Atlantic Records ended their relationship with Franklin in 1979 after several chart failures. That year, a burglary attempt left her dad in a coma, and he was hospitalized.
As her father’s health declined, so did Aretha’s career. She was also burdened with a huge bill from the IRS. However, in 1980, Franklin had a cameo in the movie “The Blues Brothers” which helped revive her career. She performed “Think” with comedians John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. The movie gave the singer exposure to a new generation of R&B fans, and she was soon signed by Arista Records.
She released the album “Jump To It” in 1982 by her new record label. The album was successful and earned Franklin another Grammy nomination. Unfortunately, two years later she split up with Turman, and her father passed away. This was obviously a difficult time for the singer, but it didn’t stop her.
Aretha Franklin returned to the top of the charts in 1985 with her smash-hit album “Who’s Zoomin’ Who?” The album was a polished pop record featuring the hit song “Freeway of Love.” The album also included a collaboration with The Eurythmics (the rock band), and the record became her best-selling album.
In 1986, her follow-up album came out and it also did extremely well. It included a duet with George Michael called “I Knew You Were Waiting,” and it hit number one on the pop charts. The entire album eventually went gold. In 1987, Aretha made history when she became the first female artist to be inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She also received an honorary doctorate from the University of Detroit.
Later that same year, she released her album “One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism,” which went on to win the Grammy Award for Best Soul Gospel Performance. Aretha Franklin was definitely back on top before another relatively quiet phase of her career. However, in 1993, she was invited to sing the Bill Clinton inauguration.
The next year, she earned a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and Kennedy Center Honors. Aretha Franklin was the center around several tributes and documentaries as the decade progressed. In 2000, she reprised her role in the Blues Brothers and released the gold-selling album “A Rose is Still a Rose.” Luciano Pavarotti was too sick to accept his awards, so Franklin stood in for him with her rendition of “Nessun Dorma.”
Her incredible rendition earned the singer stellar reviews. She released “So Damn Happy,” her last studio album in 2003. She was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom just two years later and became the second female that was ever inducted in the UK Music Hall of Fame. The singer received her 18th Grammy Award in 2008 for “Never Gonna Break My Faith,” a collaboration with Mary J. Blige.
She was also selected to sing at the presidential inauguration for Barak Obama in 2009. Aretha Franklin is one of the most honored singers in Grammy history with 18 Grammy awards under her belt. She is ranked among Alison Krauss, Adele, and Beyoncé Knowles. In 2011, she released her first album through her own record label called “A Woman Falling Out.”
To support the project, Franklin performed various concerts. This included a two-night stint at the Radio City Music Hall in New York. She impressed both fans and critics with her performances and proved that she is still the Queen of Soul. In 2014, Franklin sang the “Great Diva Classics,” and it reached number 3 on R&B charts and number 13 on the pop charts.
In February 2017, Aretha Franklin was 74 years old and told WDIV Local 4 that she was collaborating with Stevie Wonder for a new album. She stated, “I must tell you, I am retiring this year.” In an interview, she added, “I feel very, very enriched and satisfied with respect to where my career came from and where it is now. I’ll pretty much be satisfied, but I’m not going to go anywhere and just sit down and do nothing. That wouldn’t be good either.”
In January of 2018, the singer chose actress Jennifer Hudson to play her in an upcoming biopic. On August 12th of that year, it was reported that Aretha Franklin was bedridden in her Detroit home because she was “gravely ill.” She was surrounded by family and friends. As soon as people found out about her condition, more stars, including Stevie Wonder and Jesse Jackson, expressed well wishes for the singer.
Sadly the singer ultimately passed away due to advanced pancreatic cancer. The family stated, “We have been deeply touched by the incredible outpouring of love and support we have received from close friends, supporters, and fans all around the world. Thank you for all your compassion and prayers…”
Aretha Franklin made history in 1987 when she became the first woman ever to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She paved the way for many generations of female artists and inspired young African American girls. You may wonder who did the honors. It’s the one and only Keith Richards (from the Rolling Stones).
When he introduced her, he referred to her as “the first lady to be introduced into the Hall of fame.” Although she has been singing since an extremely young age, this was one of Franklin’s biggest accomplishments. They don’t call her the Queen of Soul for nothing. Franklin has proved that she has a natural-born talent and one of the world’s more powerful voices.
It wasn’t just The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that acknowledged Franklin’s incredible talent. Eight years before her induction, the star also received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The state of Michigan announced her voice to be a “national resource” in 1985. I’m not exactly sure what the means, but getting your voice called a national resource is quite the compliment.
In 1991, the singer was also awarded the Grammy Legend Award and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award three years later. She earned top praise with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005. It’s clear the right people acknowledged Franklin’s unbelievable talent. She definitely has well-earned respect in the music industry.
It’s obvious that Aretha Franklin has a voice that radiates extreme power. But what you may not have known is that she has a four-octave vocal range. With a skill that, this girl needs absolutely no auto-tune. As we know, auto-tune is commonly used, especially in this day in age. It’s nice to know that this wasn’t always the case.
The singer even has a little something to say about it, “What is auto-tune? I don’t even know what auto-tune is.” She doesn’t even know what it is! She definitely doesn’t need to with a voice like that. Some people don’t need anything extra to be the best. Aretha’s pure talent is better than any version of auto-tune.
The unauthorized biography about Aretha Franklin was released in 2014, and let’s just say; she wasn’t very happy about it. It was called “Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin” by David Ritz. Aretha Franklin herself referred to the biography as “trashy.” She had a few other things to say in her statement.
The singer revealed that she thinks the author has been carrying a grudge against her for a long time. She stated that his “actions are obviously vindictive because I edited out some crazy statements he had the gall to try and put in my book written 15 years ago.” Yikes! I don’t know how the situation went down, but I wouldn’t want to get on her bad side.
Aretha Franklin’s voice wasn’t just good; it was exceptional. Not everyone is born with god-given talent, but Aretha was blessed with the voice of an angel. It’s possible that Aretha’s talent is genetic and that she inherited it from her mom. Her mother also had an incredible voice, and she earned her own recognition for her singing talent from a very young age.
When Aretha started singing, it was at her dad’s church in front of her father’s congregation. Sometimes, she would even play the piano. Her father was well-known for his distinctive and commanding voice, and of course, so is she. Aretha Franklin is so musically talented that she even taught herself how to play the piano. No wonder she had such a skyrocketing career.
Franklin was a good student, but she never graduated high school. Unfortunately, it was too tough considering she was a teen mom. As we mentioned, the singer was a mother of two before she turned 17. However, that didn’t stop her from continuing to study classical piano. She loved playing since she was a young girl.
In 2010, during a benefit in Philadelphia, Franklin got to perform with Condoleezza Rice (fellow classical piano player). That’s not all she did without a high-school graduation. Franklin also earned two honorary doctorates of music. One from Yale University and the other from Berklee College of Music. That’s pretty impressive. This is a girl who can achieve anything she sets her mind to.
With all her connections in the entertainment industry, it’s not too surprising that Aretha Franklin has some famous friends. Naturally, the star ended up as the Godmother of another famous name – Whitney Houston. The two were incredibly close, and Houston referred to her godmother as Auntie Ree.
Whitney Houston is an incredible artist in her own right, but that’s a whole different article. Houston sadly passed away from coronary heart disease in 2012. Franklin was set to perform at her funeral, but unfortunately, she wasn’t able to be there because she was suffering from severe leg spasms. After being criticized for her absence, the singer said, “God knows I wanted to be there, but I couldn’t.”
Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and his family were really close to Aretha Franklin’s father (who was also a reverend). After his tragic assassination in 1968, the singer attended his funeral where she performed Precious Lord. Jerry Wexler, Franklin’s producer at Atlantic, praised her performance. He described it as “a holy blend of truth and unspeakable tragedy.”
Four years later, she was invited to perform at gospel icon Mahalia Jackson’s funeral. This helped strengthen her role in the world of Gospel music. In 1968, the Mayor of Detroit at the time, Jerome P.
We know Aretha Franklin taught herself how to play piano, but she also managed to learn Nessun Dorma, an opera aria, in just 20 minutes! That’s extremely remarkable. During the 1998 Grammy Awards, Pavarotti was set to perform but got sick at the last minute. Thankfully, Aretha Franklin stepped in and gave a brilliant performance.
Aretha Franklin’s career was in the making for half a century, so it’s safe to say she has seen a lot of presidents during her time, and they noticed her talent too. She was invited to sing at not one, not two, but three different inauguration ceremonies. I guess when the president wants you to sing, you know you made it.
During Barak Obama’s inauguration, Franklin’s hat caused quite the commotion just about everywhere. It was grey with a big bow on it. Detroit based, Luke Song sold out of that hat soon after the event because it garnered so much attention. While Obama was in office, Franklin was part of a Women of Soul Tribute at the White House.
However, when he introduced her, he made a teeny tiny mistake. He misspelled the word respect. Okay, I get it, things happen. But come on, she literally spells it out for us in her song, Respect. Anyways, former President Obama and Aretha Franklin have developed a friendship and remained that way until her death. Obama opened up about his feelings about the singer.
Franklin had the merit of performing at the Kennedy Center in 2015. President Obama was in office at the time, and when she sang Natural Woman, he was clearly emotional. Obama revealed his feelings toward the singer. He stated that “American history wells up when Aretha sings.”
He went on to say, “nobody embodies more fully the connection between the African-American spiritual, the blues, and R&B, rock and toll – the way that hardship and sorrow were transformed into something full of beauty and vitality and hope.” During the performance, Franklin turned on a little sass, and everyone loved it. Halfway through the performance, she took off her fur coat and let it drop on stage. The singer got a well-deserved standing ovation.
Do you think Aretha Franklin takes a plane, train, or car? The answer is none! It turns out, the singer is extremely scared of flying and takes her tour bus everywhere, but it wasn’t always like this. In 1982, there was an incident where she was on a plane that hit some bad turbulence. Ever since then, Franklin prefers to be on the ground. She said, “I’ve been to California from Detroit four times this year and Florida.
She continued stating, “I go wherever I choose to go comfortably on my custom tour bus.” I can’t argue with her there. I’m also not the biggest fan of flying. Unfortunately, I don’t have a tour bus, so I do need to take planes at times. Cavanaugh declared February 16th to be Aretha Franklin Day. Considering February is Black History Month, the timing turned out to be perfect.
We’re going to try to get the song “Respect” stuck in your head if you’re not singing it already. It wasn’t just a top-charting hit, but the song was revolutionary and empowering, particularly for young women. The song came out at a time where black activism, feminism, and female sexuality were all significant topics in society.
Apparently, the music industry also fell in love with the song. The song respect even earned Franklin two Grammy Awards that year. Franklin stated that she enjoyed singing it and stated, “I just find new ways of refreshing the song.” Speaking of refreshing the song, what most people don’t know is that it was originally performed by Otis Redding. Franklin and her sister added the distinctive harmony and made the song a hit.
Aretha Franklin lived through a time where social change was a pretty big deal. Her dad, Reverend C.L Franklin, was actually involved in the civil rights movements. Reverend Jesse Jackson was also there for the ride. He knew the singer for years, so he had some pretty good insight into her demeanor. “She did 11 concerts for free and hosted us at her home and did a fundraiser for my campaign. Aretha has always been a very socially conscious artist, an inspiration, not just an entertainer.”
In addition to having a heart of gold, Aretha is also a star. And I mean that quite literally… well, sort of. In 2014, she had an asteroid named after her: 249516 Aretha. If only someone would name a star after me. That would be nice.
It’s no secret that Aretha has been battling with her weight for most of her life. However, in 2011, the singer disclosed that due to an undisclosed ailment, she lost 85 pounds. Although she didn’t speak much about what the illness was, she stated, “I’ve left that behind, I’m feeling wonderful.”
In addition to struggling with her weight, Franklin had a few more struggles throughout her life. The singer struggled with alcoholism and was a chain smoker. These are both bad coping mechanisms. Thankfully in 1992, Franklin decided it was time to give up cigarettes. She later admitted it was bad for her voice. I don’t care what the reason was; I’m just happy she gave up this dangerous habit.
Franklin is a mother of four sons. I can only imagine what it would be like for anyone to deal with four boys. However, Franklin had her first two songs by the time she was just 14. Now that I can’t imagine. She had her first child when she was 12 years old, and the second when she was 14. Being a teen mom was difficult for the singer, and she ultimately had to drop out of school.
Basically, she had Clarence and Edward before her first single even came out. Years later, she had two more sons named Theodore and Kecalf. Aretha does credit her family for helping her as a teen mom. She stated, “My grandmother helped me a lot, and my sister and my cousin. They would babysit so could get out occasionally.”
In her later years, Franklin’s health became a hot topic. Sadly, she lost both of her sisters to cancer. One had throat cancer, and the other one died of breast cancer. Her brother also suffered from lung cancer. For the next few years, the singer ended canceling numerous scheduled shows due to mysterious health reasons.
Franklin even underwent surgery at one point. She did manage to keep it a secret until the very end as she refused to discuss the illness. When the singer passed away on August 16th, 2018, it was finally revealed that she was dealing with pancreatic cancer. She was 76 years old when she died, but she was surrounded by her family, friends, and loved ones.
In the 1980s, the Queen of Soul met the Soul Men! Franklin played Mrs. Murphy, Matt “Guitar” Murphy’s wife, in Blues Brothers. In the film, Aretha got to show off her powerful singing voice when she performed a longer version of the song “Think,” her 1968 hit! In her autobiography, Franklin said, “The Blues Brothers was something I enjoyed making tremendously.”
“It was my debut film. The only thing I didn’t really like about it was the hours.” The singer went on to say, “I had a lot of fun with Belushi, and Dan Aykroyd – great guys – a big sense of humor, and very professional and astute. So I had a good time. It makes everything so much easier when you’re having fun and enjoying what you’re doing.”
Besides R-E-S-P-E-C-T, another repeated and popular lyric in the song Respect is, “sock it to me.” In 1999, Franklin reported that she and little sister were messing around on the piano one day when they decided to include the line. However, it’s not what you think. She referred to the line as a “cliché of the day.”
“We didn’t just come up with it. It was really a cliché. And some of the girls were saying that to the fellows, like, ‘Sock it to me in this way’ or ‘sock it to me in the way.’ It was nonsexual, just a cliché line.” Well, this changes everything. The backup singers who beautifully sang that phrase were Erma and Carolyn, Aretha’s sisters.
Nowadays, equal pay is a hot topic in society. However, things are much better now than they were back in the day. Aretha Franklin was in the industry when the gender pay gap was common in Hollywood and in the rest of the world. In 2014, Franking had something to say about equal pay in an interview with Rolling Stone.
“If women are going to do the same job, why not give equal pay? Because that job is harder for a woman than a man sometimes.” The singer explained, “We deserve parity, and maybe even a little more. Especially if it’s physically taxing, we should get a little more money, if you have enough heart to take it on.” I can’t argue with her there. We can only hope that things keep progressing positively.
Angela Davis was a communist activist who got arrested in 1970 for allegedly buying guns that were used in a California courthouse shoot out. Aretha defended Davis and offered to pay her bail. “Angela Davis must go free,” Franklin said. “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.”
She continued on, explaining, “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. I have the money; I got it from black people – they’ve made me financially able to have it – and I want to use it in ways that will help out people.” Davis was ultimately released. A local dairy farmer posted her bail for $102,500, and she was acquitted of all charges.
After having two children by the time she was 14 years old, Aretha couldn’t continue school and formal education. However, this doesn’t mean that Franklin wasn’t smart. Another example of her musical brilliance is that she taught herself piano, just by listening to it. It’s tough enough to get kids to sit by the piano, let alone read music notes.
Well, Aretha was so musically inclined that she didn’t need lessons or know how to read music to play the piano beautifully. It came naturally to Franklin. “I play by ear,” she explained. Yes, she grew up in a musical family, and her mother was a singer and pianist. Still, it takes someone very special to learn an instrument the way she has.