Aretha – A Name To Be Respected

by: LaShaunda McWright

“Being a singer is a natural gift. It means I’m using to the highest degree possible the gift that God gave me to use. I’m happy with that.”

—Aretha Franklin




When you hear the name “Aretha”, you know exactly who is being talked about!  For decades, Aretha Franklin reigned as “Queen of Soul” for her bold and soulful lyrics from songs like “R.E.S.P.E.C.T” and “Natural Woman”.  Even without singing Gospel music, her remarkable voice could take you to church with her strong vocals filled with pride and definitely respect. Her influence through her songs changed generations of music and with over 75 million records sold, it stands hard to compare her to anyone.  She showed the world that her name is and always will be……RESPECTED!!








The daughter of the late Rev. Clarence L. Franklin, and Barbara (Siggers) Franklin,  Aretha Franklin was born on March 25, 1942 in Memphis, TN.  Both parents being gospel singers, it was only natural for Aretha to follow in their footsteps.  Aretha’s mother died when she was a young girl, leaving her to be raised by her father. Her family relocated to Detroit, MI where her father became a minister at New Bethel Baptist Church and gained national recognition. A self-taught pianist, Aretha played the piano without being able to read music while performing at her father’s church and touring with his traveling revival shows.  Her powerful voice gave her a start in front of her father’s congregation where she was viewed as her father’s prodigy. In 1956, Aretha recorded some of her earlier church songs “Precious Lord”, “There is a Fountain Filled With Blood”, and “You Grow Closer” at age fourteen that were released by J.V.B. Records – a small label in Detroit.  While traveling on her father’s revival shows, she befriended Mahalia Jackson, Sam Cooke and Clara Ward. 






When Aretha turned eighteen, she had decided to explore her musical sounds to a different genre of music and follow her friend, singer Sam Cook to sing Pop music.  With her father as her manager, she moved to New York and was signed to Columbia Records in 1960. Her first “secular” single, “Today I Sing The Blues”, hit the top of the charts of Hot Rhythm and Blues. By 1961, she had began performing in a number of musical genres; Rhythm and Blues, Jazz, Pop, and Doo-Wop, which gained her an award as “new -star female vocalist” at the end of 1961.



During a performance at the Regal Theater, a radio host from WVON announced that Aretha should be named “The Queen of Soul”. By November 1966, Aretha chose to move to Atlantic Records and recorded one of her many popular songs “I Never Loved A Man (The Way That I Love You)”. In 1967, the song reached number one on the R&B and Pop Charts and became Gold. She recorded more than a dozen singles that reached number one on the top ten charts such as “Chain of Fools”, Ain’t No Way”, Think” and “I Say A Little Prayer For You”.



Aretha’s success continued to grow and on February 16, 1968 a day was named in her honor. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. attended the ceremony and presented Aretha with the SCLC Drum Beat Award for Musicians. By the 1970s, Aretha Franklin continued recording hit records which she held the number one spot on the top ten charts with hit singles “Rock Steady” and “Spanish Harlem”. Throughout the decade, her success continued as she worked on live recordings and in 1976, she collaborated with Curtis Mayfield, working on the soundtrack for the movie “Sparkle”.   


By 1980, Aretha Franklin signed with Clive Davis at Arista Records and also held a film role in the comedy “The Blues Brothers” where she performed her hit single “Think”.  In that same year, she performed in the presence of Queen Elizabeth at London’s Royal Albert Hall. Over the next 2 1/2 decades, she continued to release record-breaking hits and in 1987, shared her vocals to theme songs of TV hit shows “A Different World” and “Together”. After twenty-seven years, she announced that she was parting ways with  Arista Records but continued performing,  In February 2006, she performed the Star-Spangled Banner at the Super Bowl XL held in her hometown Detroit. She gave a Show-stopping performance in 2009 when she sang “My Country Tis of Thee” at President Barack Obama’s Inaguaration ceremony which made headlines.






“I have 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 our people.” – Aretha Franklin



Aretha Franklin was not only a singing legend but she gained a huge voice in the Civil Rights Movement.  By age sixteen, she toured with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, whom she became good friends with, where she used her voice to advocate for racial equality. Her connection with life’s struggles and triumphs was heightened in her music. In 1963, Aretha’s father, Rev. Clarence L. Franklin organized the Detroit Walk to Freedom – the largest demonstration in the United States for the Civil Rights before the March on Washington. 

In 1967, she released her song “Respect” which became the theme for the Civil Rights Movement where it was highly significant. She would later sing  “Precious Lord” at Rev. Dr. King’s funeral in 1968. 



Aretha Franklin shared her political views from the stage where she encouraged people to register to vote and expressed her fight for social justice.  She was a strong supporter of the Civil Rights Movement and it was felt when she offered to post bond for Civil Rights Activist Angela Davis when Davis was arrested in connection with a courtroom escape conspiracy.  Aretha Franklin vowed never to perform in front of a segregated audience and she encouraged her audiences to stand up for decency. She performed several free concerts for the movements, coordinated fund raisers and also housed and cooked for several Civil Rights Members. 

“I have 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 our people.” – Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin held thirteen Honorary Doctoral Degrees from the most influential colleges to include Berklee College of Music, Harvard University, Yale University and Princeton University and she performed her own redemption of the National Anthem at Harvard University at the ceremony where she was awarded an Honorary Doctoral Degree.  She was a longtime supporter of the United Negro Fund and was honored at the college funds “An Evening of Stars” in 2007 at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood.  




1979 – Received a star on the Walk of Hollywood

1985 – Her voice declared a Michigan “natural resource”

1987 -The first woman inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame

1991 – Grammy Legend Award

1994 – Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award

1994 – Kennedy Center Honoree Award

1999 – Recipient of National Medal of Arts

2005 – Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom

2005 – Inducted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame

2005 – Became the second woman inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame

2008 – Awarded – MusiCares Person of the Year

2015 – Inducted into the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame




1987 – University of Michigan

1997 – New England Conservatory of Music

2006 – Berklee College of Music 

2007 – University of Pennsylvania

2009 – Brown University

2010 – Yale University

2012 – Princeton University

2014 – Harvard University & New York University




1975 – Honorary Doctoral Law Degree /Bethune-Cookman University

1990 – Wayne State University

2011 – Wayne Reserve University




DEATHAfter a battle with pancreatic cancer, The Queen of Soul permanently closed her eyes on August 16, 2018 at her home  in Riverfront  Towers, Detroit.  She was surrounded by her family and loved ones while under the care of hospice.

On August 19, 2018, a memorial service was held in her late father’s church – New Bethel Baptist Church followed by her funeral services on August 31, 2018. Several celebrities, politicians, family and friends paid tribute to Aretha Franklin and the services was streamed by several television networks.  

Her legacy will forever live on through her music.

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