For this assignment, I conducted research on scholarly articles that told the life, career, and continued legacy of Aretha Franklin. From her upbringing to her latest performances, I wanted to know how every aspect of Aretha’s life has shaped who we know her to be today. The most prominent findings were of her musical upbringing, crucial decisions that have shaped her career, awards, family, and health. It is no secret that Ms. Franklin is a household name, but how did she achieve such fame? How has she influenced the artists of today’s generation? What is she doing today? This is the story of Aretha Franklin.
Aretha Franklin is a world-renowned singer-songwriter who has undoubtedly made her mark in history. Growing up singing in church, Ms. Franklin’s musical career took off and the rest was history. Her transition from Gospel to secular music was very smooth, being signed to the top record labels in the world. With her most popular hits, “Respect”, “A Natural Woman”, and “Think”, Franklin quickly soared to the top of the charts and became a household name. Deemed the Queen of Soul, Aretha has received numerous awards and accolades along with performing on some of the world’s largest stages. Aretha Franklin is a force to be reckoned with and no one can ever take her place.
Aretha Louise Franklin was born on March 25, 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee. Her father, C. L. Franklin, was a minister and her mother, Barbara Franklin was a singer and pianist. At age nine, Aretha’s mother passed away, prompting care from her grandmother, Rachel, and Mahalia Jackson. First debuting her musical talents in her father’s church, Aretha’s talent was undeniable and her father eventually became her manager, resulting in the arrangement for Franklin to travel with the popular Gospel groups, The Soul Stirrers and The Caravans. After expressing her desire to transition to secular music, Aretha and her father produced two songs, which eventually led to her signing with Columbia Records. This was the start of a life of chart-topping hits and international success.
Columbia Records released Aretha’s first secular album, Aretha: With the Ray Bryant Combo. After its success, the label decided that more music needed to recorded and in 1965, Aretha had a top 10 single on the R&B chart, “Running Out of Fools”. But, after a few years with Columbia Records, Ms. Franklin decided not to renew her contract and she then signed to Atlantic Records. In 1967, she recorded “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You) in Muscle Shoals, Alabama with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section as her audience. This song resulted in Aretha’s first top ten pop single, along with it making the Billboard Hot 100 chart at number nine and number one of the R&B chart. Later that year, one her most well-known songs, “RESPECT”, was recorded and has been deemed “the anthem of the civil rights and feminist movements”. Returning back to her roots, Franklin recorded her Gospel album, “Amazing Grace”, which ending up selling over two million copies. In 1971, she made history by becoming the first R&B artist to headline Filmore West. After later recording several albums after her historic headline and not receiving the expected results, Aretha Franklin decided to leave Atlantic Records. In 1980, the songstress joined Clive Davis at Arista Records. The same year, she performed for Queen Elizabeth at the Royal Albert Hall. Her first album recorded at Arista Records, Aretha, resulted in her single, “United Together” reaching number three on the R&B chart. In 1985, Who’s Zooming’ Who? was Aretha’s first album to go platinum and the fifth record produced by Arista Records. Though in a secular industry, Franklin’s love for God was unwavering and she released her third Gospel album, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, in 1985, followed by Through the Storm in 1987. After twenty years of being signed to Arista Records, Aretha Franklin announced that she was leaving the label in 2004. To fulfill the obligations of her contract, Aretha released Jewels in the Crown: All-Star Duets with the Queen and This Christmas, Aretha. While Aretha has performed on almost every stage imaginable, some of her most notable performances in recent years include performing “My Country Tis of Thee” at the historical inaugaration of President Barack Obama and singing the national anthem at Super Bowl XL. In 2014, Aretha teamed up with Cissy Houston, mother of the legendary Whitney Houston, to perform Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” and her signature song, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” on the Late Show with David Letterman, receiving a standing ovation for the performance. Her cover of Adele’s hit song resulted in Franklin becoming the first woman to have 100 songs on the Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. One of her most recent performances was of “Natural Woman” at the Kennedy Center Honors to honor Carole King in 2015.
It would honestly be easier to name the awards that Aretha Franklin has not received. Nominated for 47 awards and winning 36, Ms. Franklin has a track record that most artists can only hope to have. In February 1968, the icon won the first two of her eighteen Grammy awards. In 1979, Aretha received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. In 1994, she was the recipient of the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and was a Kennedy Center Honoree. In 2005, Franklin was inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame, making her only the second woman to have been inducted into it. That same year, Aretha was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States. She has been awarded several honorary degrees from from Harvard, Yale, Brown, Berkeley College of Music, Wayne State University, and Bethune-Cookman College.
In 1961, the Queen of Soul married Ted White. After enduring years of domestic violence, she divorced him in 1969. She later met actor Glynn Turman and they married in 1978, divorcing in 1984. While we may know her as an artist, most importantly, Aretha Franklin is a mother of four sons. At the age of twelve, Franklin gave birth to her first child, Clarence, in 1955. Two years later, she had another son by the name of Edward, followed by Ted White, Jr. and Kecalf Cunningham. In recent years, Ms. Franklin has faced several health challenges. After years of battling issues with her weight, Aretha tried several new diets that allowed her to lose a tremendous amount of weight, but then began to fluctuate. In 2010, Ms. Franklin began to cancel tour dates in order to prepare for the removal of an undisclosed tumor. After a brief comeback, more cancellations occurred due to undisclosed medical treatment in 2013. After several years of trying to take control of her health, she slowly began to reemerge and perform in 2017.
Bego, Mark. Aretha Franklin: The Queen of Soul. Skyhorse Publishing, Inc., 2012.
Dobkin, Matt. I never loved a man the way I love you: Aretha Franklin, respect, and the making of a soul music masterpiece. Macmillan, 2004.
Heilbut, Anthony. The fan who knew too much: Aretha Franklin, the rise of the soap opera, children of the gospel church, and other meditations. Knopf, 2012.
Franklin, Aretha. Aretha: From These Roots. Villard Books, 1999.
Franklin, Aretha. I never loved a man the way I love you. Atlantic Recording Corporation, 1995.
Garland, Phyl. The sound of soul. H Regency Company, 1969.
Miller, Jim. The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll. Ed. Jim Miller, NY: Rolling Stone, 1980.
Werner, Craig. Higher ground: Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Curtis Mayfield, and the rise and fall of American soul. Crown Archetype, 2007.