Aretha Franklin (1942 – 2018) Singer, Songwriter, Pianist, and Activist

We pay our R-E-S-P-E-C-T to the singer, songwriter, pianist, Civil Rights Activist, Aretha Franklin, who will forever be hailed as the Queen of Soul. She was the first female inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and her magnanimous voice was declared a “Natural Resource” in the State of Michigan. An artist of prodigious versatility, her powerful vocal ranges stemmed from her early gospel roots, although she swiftly moved on to embrace Jazz, Soul, Classical, and R&B. Rolling Stone Magazine ranked her as the greatest singer of all time.

Born Aretha Louise Franklin, on March 25, 1942 in Memphis Tennessee to Clarence LaVaugh Franklin, a Baptist minister and Civil Rights Activist, and Barbara (nee Siggers) Franklin, an accomplished pianist and vocalist, Aretha was the 3rd born of the couples four children. Erma (1938-2002), Cecil (1940-1989),  Carolyn (1944-1988). They also had children from prior relationships. Vaughn (1934  -) and Carl Ellan (1940 -).  At the age of six, she and her family had moved to Detroit.

Aretha’s mother was a gifted pianist, according to Mahalia Jackson (one of the greatest gospel singers in the country) and many others. Although her primary role was wife and mother, she actively participated in the musical affairs of various churches in which Clarence Franklin officiated.

Aretha’s father, Clarence Franklin, served as a pastor for New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit.  He was known as the man with the “Million Dollar Voice.” He also took on an essential role during the Civil Rights Era.  He worked to end discriminatory practices against black United Auto Workers members in Detroit.  He was also a friend and supporter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and helped to lead Dr. King’s Freedom march in Detroit.

The Franklins had a troubled marriage due to Mr. Franklin’s infidelities. Her mother separated from the family home and moved to Buffalo, New York in 1948. Aretha was 9 when her mother died of a heart attack.

After the death of her mother, several women stepped in to help reared the Franklin children, including her grandmother, Rachel, and Mahalia Jackson.  During this time, Aretha learned to play the piano by ear and began singing in her father’s church. Her father rose to became a respected figure among Detroit’s black community, and his church was an epicenter for gospel music.

In 1956, at the age of 14, she released her first recorded album, Spirituals.  By which time she had already given birth to her first son, Clarence. It contained several gospel songs such as “Precious Lord” and “Never Grow Old”, which were reissued and released by Checker Records under the album Songs of Faith.

Aretha returned back to school after having Clarence. In 1957, she welcomed her second child, Edward. It was during this time she decided to drop out of school and focus on her musical career. Her grandmother offered to raise the two boys.

Occasionally, she would go on tour with “The Soul Stirrers”.  In 1958, Aretha and her father traveled to California where she met singer Sam Cooke who tried to persuade her to sign with his label, RCA Records. However, Mr. Franklin, who served as her manager declined the offer due to the fact that she had already been spotted by one of Columbia Records talent scouts. After signing with Columbia, she released the hit single “Today I Sing the Blues” in September of 1960, which reached the top ten of the Hot R&B Sellers Chart.

In 1966, after six years with Columbia, Aretha chose not to renew her contract with the record label and went on to sign with Atlantic Records.  The following year she traveled to FAME Studios to record “I Never Love a Man” (The Way I Love You).  She spent only one day recording, due to an altercation which broke out between her manager and husband Ted White , and studio owner Rick Hall.  The conflict resulted in the sessions being cancelled.  The song was released a month later and reached number one on the R&B chart, and number nine on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart. Her single “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” reached the R&B top 40, peaking at number 37.

By 1975, Aretha’s career had reach a slump and her sound appeared to be fading  with the onset of the disco craze.  While she continued to produce hits such as “Don’t Play That Song”, “Call Me”, and “Bridge Over Troubled Water”,  her label Atlantic was grooming a new artist, Roberta Flack to stardom.

However, she found a brief respite from slumping sales with the 1976 soundtrack to the film Sparkle, which topped the R&B charts and made the Top 20 in pop. In addition, she received an invitation to perform at the 1977 presidential inauguration of Jimmy Carter. Ultimately, she had an acclaimed guest role as a waitress in the comedy musical The Blues Brothers. Performing “Think” alongside comedians John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd exposed her to a new generation of R&B lovers, and she soon signed to Arista Records.

Her career spanned six decades, and she went on to achieve massive success.

Accomplishments:

In 1979, she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

In 1985, her voice was declared a Michigan “natural resource”.

In 1987, she became the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences awarded her a Grammy Legend Award in 1991, then the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994.

She was a Kennedy Center Honoree in 1994, recipient of the National Medal of Arts in 1999, and was bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 by President George W Bush. She was inducted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame that same year.

She became the second woman inducted to the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005. She was the 2008 MusiCares Person of the Year, performing at the Grammys days later.

In 2012, she was inducted to the GMA Gospel Music Hall of Fame .  She was described as “the voice of the civil rights movement, the voice of black America” and a “symbol of black equality”.

Ranked first on the Rolling Stone list of Greatest Singers of All Time. In 2013, she was again ranked first in Rolling Stone magazine’s “100 Greatest Singers” list.

List of Honorary Degrees:
Honorary Doctor of Law degree by Bethune–Cookman University in 1975.
Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by Case Western Reserve University in 2011 and Wayne State University in 1990.

Honorary doctorates in music from the University of Michigan in 1987, New England Conservatory of Music in 1997, Berklee College of Music in 2006, University of Pennsylvania in 2007, Brown University in 2009, Yale University in 2010, and Princeton University in 2012, Harvard University and New York University in 2014.

Final Days:

On August 13, 2018, Franklin was reported to be gravely ill at her home in Riverfront Towers, Detroit. She was under hospice care and surrounded by friends and family. Stevie Wonder, Jesse Jackson and ex-husband Glynn Turman visited her on her deathbed. She died at her home on August 16, 2018, at the age of 76 of pancreatic cancer.

 

Notable Quotes:

“I’m the lady next door when I’m not on stage.”

“Don’t say Aretha is making a comeback, because I’ve never been away!”

“I always felt rock and roll was very, very wholesome music.”

“My faith always has been and always will be important to me.”

“I sing to the realists; people who accept it like it is.”

“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.”

 

References:

BBC: https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-11950661

Wikipedia: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aretha_Franklin

People: https://people.com/music/aretha-franklin-dead-early-motherhood-life/?utm_source=people.com&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=social-button-sharing

Good House Keeping: https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/g22746859/aretha-franklin-younger-life/

 

 

Recreated Photo Credit: Kimberly Staples

Model: Jasmine Y. Williams

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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