Grammy-winning Queen of Soul and the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Aretha Louise Franklin was born in Memphis, Tennessee, to Barbara Vernice (Siggers) and C. L. Franklin, a Baptist minister, who preached at the New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit for over thirty years. Known as the man with the “Million-Dollar Voice”, her father was one of the most respected and prominent ministers in the country, and Aretha grew up singing in church, and surrounded by local and national celebrities. She learned how to play piano by ear and soon understood the correct tones and pitches.
Aretha released her first single at the age of eighteen, under Columbia Records, it reached number ten on the BillBoard charts and her first record was released in January of 1961. While working for the label, she managed to score two more R&B hits, Operation Heartbreak and Won’t Be Long. However the people at Columbia often felt they didn’t understand the direction Aretha wanted to go with her music, and ultimately failed to bring out her potential. In 1966, Aretha signed a contract with Atlantic Records, where she released her first legendary single, Respect, written by The King Of Soul, Otis Redding. With this single, Franklin would trigger a new vocal skill called, “call and response,” which would help liven up many of her singles. While signed with Atlantic, she released three additional top ten hits, Baby I Love You, A Natural Women,and Chain Of Fools, and won her first two Grammy awards, and eight consecutive Grammys for best female R&B vocal category.
Franklin had not only achieved her dream of becoming a musical sensation but stood out in the civil rights movement for her single with Otis Redding, Respect. The song helped send a message to Americans about equality, peace, and justice. Franklin continued to release pop hits throughout the decade, such as Think, I Say A Little Prayer, and Ain’t No Way. After these amazing hits to many listeners she was seen as The Queen Of Soul. In the 1970s, she started recording gospel hits such as Don’t Play That Song, Rocksteady, and Daydreaming. It was foreseeable that Franklin would soon stumble upon a masterpiece which became the best selling gospel album of all time, which she did in 1972 with her album Amazing Grace.
In the mid ’70s, even though she was releasing hit songs, she began to lose touch with her soul-pop audiences due to the disco genre making its entrance into mainstream music. In 1979, she released an album in order to gain the audience of disco lovers called, La Diva. La Diva sold less than 50,000 copies and was marked as the lowest point in Franklin’s career. On June 10, 1979, her father Clarence was shot by a mugger. This left Clarence in a coma for five years and Aretha decided to move back to Detroit to take care of her father. Clarence Franklin died on July 27, 1984.
In 1980, along with several other musicians such as Ray Charles and James Brown, Aretha Franklin appeared in the hit feature film The Blues Brothers. In 1982, she returned to the R&B top ten charts with her hit album Jump To It, featuring Luther Vandross. It sold more than 600,000 copies and was gold-certified, managing to stay on number one for seven weeks. In 1985, Franklin released an album which featured a unique never before heard element of rock. The album, “Who’s Zoomin Who?”, and soon went on to receive platinum-certified success. The album also featured a hit song with George Michael called I Know You Were Waiting For Me, and went on to sell more than one million copies. In 1987, Aretha sang the theme song to A Different World, a sitcom created by Bill Cosby, and in 1989, she released a pop album which featured Elton John, James Brown, The Four Tops, Kenny G, and Whitney Houston, called Through The Storm. In 1992, Franklin sang the song Someday We’ll All Be Free for the soundtrack to the biopic film Malcolm X (1992). In 1993, Aretha sang at Bill Clinton’s inauguration. At a slower rate in the mid-late ’90s, she continued to release albums and singles, working with new artists such as BabyFace, Jermaine Dupri, Sean “P Diddy” Combs, and Lauryn Hill along with her label, Arista Records.
In 2003, she had ended the 23 year relationship with Arista and opened her own label, Aretha. Franklin released her first album on the label, A Woman Falling Out Of Love, in 2011. It marked her fifty years in show business.
Aretha Franklin died of advanced pancreatic cancer on August 16, 2018, in Detroit, Michigan. She will be known as one of the most influential singers of all time, and as an activist who spoke of the world through her music, and used music as a tool for truth, justice, and soul.
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