Born in Memphis in 1942 to a preacher father, Aretha Louise Franklin began her career as a child singing in church. She had her first son Clarence at 12, started recording at 14 and had her second son named Edward. In 1960, at 18 embarked on a secular career recording for Columbia Records but achieving only modest success. In 1966, Aretha Franklin signed on to Atlantic Records and finally achieved commercial acclaim with hits such as Respect, (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman and Think. Her music featured influences from the Blues, Soul, R&B, Pop and Gospel. By the end of the 1960’s she was being called ‘The Queen of Soul’. At the age of 16 she went on tour with Dr. Martin Luther King and in 1968 she sang at his funeral.
Aretha Franklin had two sisters, Erma and Carol, they were critical in helping her take care of her children. She was the mother of four sons, the last two, Ted Jr. and Kecalf born in 1964 and 1970 respectively. She was known to be fiercely protective of her family and successfully kept them out of the ever-watchful eye of the press. She was married to Theodore ‘Ted’ White in 1961, at 19. They got divorced in 1969 and in 1978, she married her second husband, actor Glynn Turman. They separated in 1982 and were officially divorced in 1984.
Aretha Franklin passed away on August 16th at 76 after a long battle with Pancreatic Cancer. She had a remarkable musical career that spanned seven decades. She is praised for using her platform to effect change, going beyond just making her money and is said to have had it in her contract that she would not perform for segregated audiences. Her last performance was at Elton John’s AIDS Foundation on the 7th of November 2017. Songs like ‘Respect’ were not only huge sellers but were also adopted by African-Americans and feminists as anthems for social change. Her music was especially radical when you consider the songs she was singing at that particular time in history and the position of black people and women in society at the time.
Franklin recorded 112 charted singles on Billboard, including 77 Hot 100 entries, 17 top-ten pop singles, 100 R&B entries and 20 number-one R&B singles becoming the most charted female artist in the chart’s history. She won 18 Grammy Awards including the first eight given for Best Female R&B vocal performance. She is one of the best-selling musicians of all time with numerous honors throughout her career including honorary doctorates, becoming the first female to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, induction into the GMA Gospel Music Hall of Fame, and she’s been listed at least two times in the Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time and 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. She also has a Hollywood Walk of Fame star at which since her passing, fans have been laying flowers and a crown among other trinkets as they pay tribute to her.
In one of her most memorable performances, Aretha Franklin sang ‘My Country Tis of Thee’ at President Barack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009, in a hat that garnered so much attention, it currently has its own Facebook page. She also performed at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration. She attended future President Trump’s grand opening of the Trump International Hotel & Tower in 1997. 1n 2005, former president George W. Bush presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom- the nation’s highest civilian award- to an emotional Aretha Franklin. She was honoured for “her lifetime of achieving and for helping to shape our nation’s artistic and cultural heritage,” the ceremony’s announcer said before Bush presented her with the award.
Tributes and tears flooded in after the news broke, with performers citing her as an incredible inspiration to them including Chaka Khan, Kelly Clarkson, Whitney Houston, Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige, Christina Aguilera, Kris Bowers, Alicia Keys, Mariah Carey, Paul McCartney, John Legend, Lionel Richie, Lauryn Hill who produced one of her best-selling songs and Jennifer Hudson who was anointed by the Queen of Soul herself to portray her in an upcoming biopic. She will be truly missed.