On March 25th of 1942, in Memphis Tennessee Barbra and Clarence Franklin brought a child into this world that would go on to create classic, soulful, melodies that would touch the hearts of people internationally.
Aretha Franklin first found her passion for music while singing gospel songs at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan. Her father, Clarence was the minister. She was heavily influenced by her mother, a well-known singer, and pianist. After the death of her mother in 1952, Aretha learned how to play piano by ear.
At 14 years old, her father began to manage her. During this time he would bring Aretha along with him on various “church caravan tours” where he would preach, and she would perform. Clarence would help Aretha get her first record deal with J.V.B Records where she recorded her first studio album entitled “Songs of Faith”. The body of work debuted in 1956. When she was 16 years of age, she received the opportunity to tour with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She would also perform at his funeral in 1968.
At the age of 18, Franklin revealed to her father that her heart was near secular music. Shortly after the conversation, she moved to New York following Sam Cooke. As the manager, Clarence Franklin helped produce two demo tracks for Aretha that gained the attention of Columbia Records; the record company went on to sign her in 1960. Her first single through the record company entitled “Today I Sing The Blues” reached the top ten on the Hot Rhythm and Blues Sellers chart.
In 1961, through Columbia, Franklin released her first secular album entitled ‘Aretha: With The Ray Bryant Combo’. The album included her first Billboard Hot 100 charter: “Won’t Be Long”. She would follow up this same success with songs “Rock a Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody” and “Operation Heartbreak”. By 1962, she has issued two more albums through Columbia ‘The Electrifying Aretha Franklin, and ‘The Tender, The Moving, the Swinging Aretha Franklin’. During a performance at the Regal Theater, a WVON radio host suggested Franklin should be crowned as “the Queen of Soul”.
After six years of recording with Columbia Records, Franklin signed to Atlantic Records. She recorded “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)” at FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. After one day of recording at the studio her sessions were banned due to an altercation that broke out between her husband, and manager Ted White, a horn player, and the owner of the studio Rick Hall. The single that had been recorded there reached number one on the R&B chart, and number nine on the Billboard Hot 100. This would be the first top ten record she had created. That same year Atlantic released her Otis Redding-inspired “Respect” which became one of her biggest songs.
Franklin was recognized in almost countless ways for her musical genius. She received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1979. She was the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1985. Michigan also declared her voice as a “natural resource”. After receiving the Grammy Legend Award in 1991, she received The Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994. In 1995 she became a recipient of the National Medal Of Arts, and in 1999 given the Presidential Medal Of Freedom. In 2011 The Grammy Awards paid tribute to the Queen of Soul with performances of her songs by Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Hudson, Martina McBride, Florence Welch, and Yolanda Adams. She was ranked 19th on the Billboard Hot 100 All-Time Artists and, 1st on Rolling Stone’s Greatest Artists of all time in the same year. In 2012 she was also inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.
At 9:50am on August 16th, 2018 Aretha Franklin passed away in her home after battling pancreatic cancer. She was surrounded by friends, and family as requested. Aretha had been battling her sickness for many months. Her family has planned a 4-day celebration of her life with an open casket memorial at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan. Her funeral at Greater Grace Temple will follow for close friends, and family. Aretha Franklin will be entombed at Woodlawn Cemetery in Detroit, this is the same cemetery where Rosa Parks was buried.
Although the Queen of Soul is no longer with us on earth, her legacy, and influence will continue to live forever. The timeless music she created will not be forgotten. Nor will the messages of strength, respect, love she conveyed. May she forever rest In peace.