Prolific American singer and songwriter Aretha Louise Franklin sadly died on August 15 2018. She was born March 25, 1942. In Memphis, Tennessee. Her father was an itinerant preacher originally from Shelby, Mississippi, while her mother was an accomplished piano player and vocalist. Her parents had three other children, and both C. L. and Barbara had children from outside their marriage. The family relocated to Buffalo, New York, when Aretha was two. Before her fifth birthday, C. L. Franklin permanently relocated the family to Detroit, Michigan where he took over the pastorship of New Bethel Baptist Church. Aretha’s parents had a troubled marriage due to stories of her father’s philandering and in 1948, the couple separated, with Barbara relocating back to Buffalo with her son, Vaughn, from a previous relationship.
Contrary to popular notion, her mother did not abandon her children; not only would Aretha recall seeing her mother in Buffalo during the summer, Barbara also frequently visited her children in Detroit. Aretha’s mother died on March 7, 1952, before Aretha’s tenth birthday. Several women, including Aretha’s grandmother Rachel and Mahalia Jackson, took turns helping with the children at the Franklin home. Aretha also learned how to play piano by ear. Aretha’s father’s emotionally driven sermons resulted in his being known as the man with the “million-dollar voice” and earning thousands of dollars for sermons in various churches across the country. His celebrity status led to his home being visited by various celebrities, among them gospel musicians Clara Ward, James Cleveland and early Caravans members Albertina Walker and Inez Andrews as well as Martin Luther King, Jr., Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke. Aretha attended Northern High School but later dropped out during her sophomore year.
Franklin began her career as a child singing gospel at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, where her father, C. L. Franklin, was minister. Just after her mother’s death, Franklin began singing solos at New Bethel, debuting with the hymn, “Jesus, Be a Fence Around Me”. Four years later, when Franklin was 14, her father began managing her, bringing her on the road with him during his so-called “gospel caravan” tours for her to perform in various churches. He helped his daughter sign her first recording deal with J.V.B. Records, where her first album, Songs of Faith, was issued in 1956. Franklin sometimes traveled with The Soul Stirrers during this time. At the age of 16, Franklin went on tour with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1960, at the age of 18, she embarked on a secular career, recording for Columbia Records but only achieving modest success.
In January 1961, Columbia issued Franklin’s first secular album, Aretha: With The Ray Bryant Combo. The album featured her first single to chart the Billboard Hot 100, “Won’t Be Long”, which also peaked at number 7 on the R&B chart. Mostly produced by Clyde Otis, Franklin’s Columbia recordings saw her recording in diverse genres such as standards, vocal jazz, blues, doo-wop and rhythm and blues. Before the year was out, Franklin scored her first top 40 single with her rendition of the standard, “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody”, which also included the R&B hit, “Operation Heartbreak”, on its b-side. “Rock-a-Bye” became her first international hit, reaching the top 40 in Australia and Canada. By the end of 1961, Franklin was named as a “new-star female vocalist” in Down Beat magazine. In 1962, Columbia issued two more albums, The Electrifying Aretha Franklin and The Tender, the Moving, the Swinging Aretha Franklin,
By 1964, Franklin began recording more pop music, reaching the top ten on the R&B chart with the ballad, “Runnin’ Out of Fools” in early 1965. She had two R&B charted singles in 1965 and 1966 with the songs “One Step Ahead” and “Cry Like a Baby” while also reaching the Easy Listening charts with the ballads “You Made Me Love You” and “(No, No) I’m Losing You”. By the mid-1960s, Franklin was netting $100,000 from countless performances in nightclubs and theaters. Also during that period, Franklin appeared on rock and roll shows such as Hollywood A Go-Go and Shindig!.
In November 1966, Franklin signed to Atlantic Records. In January 1967, she traveled to Muscle Shoals, Alabama to record at FAME Studios to record the song, “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)” in front of the musicians of the famed Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section giving Franklin her first top ten pop single. The song’s b-side, “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man”, reached the R&B top 40, peaking at number 37. In April, Atlantic issued her frenetic version of Otis Redding’s “Respect”, which shot to number one on both the R&B and pop charts. “Respect” became her signature song and was later hailed as a civil rights and feminist anthem.
She signed to Atlantic Records in 1967.IFranklin’s debut Atlantic album, I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, also became commercially successful, later going gold. Franklin scored two more top ten singles in 1967 including “Baby I Love You” and “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman”. In 1968, she issued the top-selling albums, Lady Soul and Aretha Now, which included some of Franklin’s most popular hit singles, including “Chain of Fools”, “Ain’t No Way”, “Think” and “I Say a Little Prayer”. In February 1968, Franklin earned the first two of her Grammys, including the debut category for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. On February 16, 1968, Franklin was honored with a day in her honor and was greeted by longtime friend Martin Luther King, Jr. who gave her the SCLC Drum Beat Award for Musicians just two months before his death. In June 1968, she appeared on the cover of Time magazin
Franklin’s success expanded during the early 1970s in which she recorded top ten singles such as “Spanish Harlem”, “Rock Steady” and “Day Dreaming” as well as the acclaimed albums Spirit in the Dark, Young, Gifted & Black, and her gospel album, Amazing Grace, which sold over two million copies. In 1971, Franklin became the first R&B performer to headline Fillmore West, later releasing the live album Aretha Live at Fillmore West. Franklin’s career began to experience problems while recording the album, Hey Now Hey, which featured production from Quincy Jones. Despite the success of the single “Angel”, the album bombed upon its release in 1973. Franklin continued having R&B success with songs such as “Until You Come Back to Me” and “I’m in Love”, but by 1975 her albums and songs were no longer top sellers. After Jerry Wexler left Atlantic for Warner Bros. Records in 1976, Franklin worked on the soundtrack to the film Sparkle with Curtis Mayfield featuring the song, “Something He Can Feel”. Franklin’s follow-up albums Sweet Passion, Almighty Fire and La Diva, bombed on the charts And she began experiencing problems with her record company by the mid-1970s, then her father was shot in 1979. So Franklin subsequently left Atlantic and signed with Arista Records, finding success with her part in the film The Blues Brothers and with the albums Jump to It and Who’s Zoomin’ Who?
In 1980, after leaving Atlantic Records, Franklin signed with Arista Records and gave a command performance at the Royal Albert Hall in front of Queen Elizabeth. Franklin also made an acclaimed guest role as a waitress in the comedy musical, The Blues Brothers. Franklin’s first Arista album, Aretha, featured the No. 3 R&B hit, “United Together” and her Grammy-nominated cover of Otis Redding’s “I Can’t Turn You Loose”. The follow-up, 1981’s Love All the Hurt Away, included her famed duet of the title track with George Benson while the album also included her Grammy-winning cover of Sam & Dave’s “Hold On, I’m Comin'”. Franklin achieved a gold record—for the first time in seven years—with the album Jump to It. Its title track was her first top 40 single on the pop charts in six years.
In 1985, inspired by a desire to have a “younger sound” in her music, Who’s Zoomin’ Who? became her first Arista album to be certified platinum. The album sold well over a million copies thanks to the hits, “Freeway of Love”, the title track, and “Another Night”. The next ablum 1986’s Aretha album featured the hit singles “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, “Jimmy Lee” and “I Knew You Were Waiting for Me”, her international number-one duet with George Michael. Franklin provided vocals to the theme songs of the TV shows A Different World and Together. In 1987, she issued her third gospel album, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, which was recorded at her late father’s New Bethel church, followed by Through the Storm in 1989. Franklin’s 1991 album, What You See is What You Sweat, failed, howeverFranklin returned to the charts in 1993 with the dance song “A Deeper Love” and returned to the top 40 with the song “Willing to Forgive” in 1994
In 1998, Franklin won international acclaim for singing the opera aria “Nessun dorma”, at the Grammys of that year replacing Luciano Pavarotti. In 1998 she sang the Lauryn Hill-produced song, “A Rose Is Still a Rose”, Her final Arista album, So Damn Happy, was released in 2003 and featured the Grammy-winning song, “Wonderful”. In 2004, Franklin announced that she was leaving Arista her final album, Wasd the duets compilation album, Jewels in the Crown: All-Star Duets with the Queen, in 2007. Then in 2008 she issued the holiday album, This Christmas, Aretha, on DMI Records.
In 2006 Franklin performed The Star Spangled Banner with Aaron Neville and Dr. John for Super Bowl XL, held in Detroit. She later 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 2010, Franklin accepted an honorary degree from Yale University. 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 was working with Clive Davis. An album was planned with producers Babyface and Danger Mouse. 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. 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 and 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”,
In 2015, Franklin performed “(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. During the bridge of the song, Ms. Franklin dropped her fur coat to the stage, for which the audience rewarded her with a mid-performance standing ovation. 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 in a black fur coat and Lions stocking cap, this rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” lasted over four minutes and featured a host of improvisations by Franklin.
Over the years Franklin has won a total of 18 Grammy Awards and is one of the best-selling musical artists of all time, having sold over 75 million records worldwide. Franklin has been honored throughout her career including a 1987 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in which she became the first female performer to be inducted. She was inducted to the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005. In August 2012, Franklin was inducted into the GMA Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Franklin is listed in at least two all-time lists on Rolling Stone magazine, including the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time; and the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.