Singer, songwriter, mother, pioneer. These are just a mere few words to describe the incomparable Aretha Louise Franklin. Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Franklin began her career as an adolescent singing gospel at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, where her father, C. L. Franklin, known as the man with the “million-dollar voice” was a minister. An accomplished piano player and vocalist, Franklin’s mother Barbara who died before Franklin’s tenth birthday, was also enriched in musical talent. With her golden gospel-tinged mezzo-soprano pipes, Franklin epitomized soul music at its finest, paving the way for many who are idolized today.
Learning to play the piano by ear at a very young age, Franklin released her first album Songs of Faith at the tender age of 14. Franklin’s musical talent continuously spoke volumes in more ways than one. She departed this life on August 16, 2018. She was 76. In 1960, 18-year-old Franklin embarked on her secular music career, recording first for Columbia Records.
Following her signing to Atlantic Records in 1967, Franklin finally achieved commercial acclaim with many trendsetting songs. These included the dreamy (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”, the feisty “Think”, and the female anthem “Respect”. By the end of the 1960s, she had rightfully gained the coveted title of “The Queen of Soul”. Franklin also recorded acclaimed albums such as I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You in 1967, and Lady Soul in 1968. The same year, Franklin was honored with a day in her honor, and was awarded the SCLC Drum Beat Award for Musicians by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In June of the same year, she appeared on the cover of Time Magazine. In 1972, she released her popular albums Young, Gifted and Black and Amazing Grace before experiencing problems with her record company by the mid-1970. After her father died in 1979, Franklin left Atlantic and signed with Arista Records. The same year, Franklin received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. With Arista, Franklin found success with a part in the 1980 film The Blues Brothers, the albums Jump to It (1982) and Who’s Zoomin’ Who? (1985).
In 1998, Franklin received international acclaim for singing “Nessun dorma” at the Grammys that same year. Later that year, she scored her last Top 40 entry with the R&B hit “A Rose Is Still a Rose”, featuring Lauryn Hill among others. Franklin eventually recorded a total of 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. Franklin’s other popular and well known hits include “Rock Steady”,”Chain Of Fools”, “Something He Can Feel”, “Freeway of Love”, “Who’s Zoomin’ Who”, “Jump to It”, “I Knew You Were Waiting For Me” (with George Michael), and a remake of The Rolling Stones classic “Jumpin’ Jack Flash“. In 2006, Franklin performed “The Star-Spangled Banner” along with Aaron Neville for Super Bowl XL.
Two years later, she gave a rousing performance of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” at President Barack Obama’s inauguration. In October 2014, Franklin became the first woman to have 100 songs on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. In 2017, Franklin released the album A Brand New Me with The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. The album peaked at #5 on the Billboard Top Classical Albums chart. Franklin later returned to live performing, including a 2013 Christmas concert at Detroit’s Motor City Casino. She launched a multi-city tour beginning in mid-2014, starting with a performance of June 14 in New York at the Radio City Music Hall. The mother of four sons, Franklin was married twice once to Theodore “Ted” White and then to actor Glynn Turman.
In 2017, Franklin canceled a series of concerts due to health reasons. Her medical issues started many years ago with fluctuating weight issues. A former smoker who also struggled with alcoholism, she permanently quit smoking in 1992. It was then that she gained weight again. Her medical issues continued in later years resulting in many more canceled performances.
On August 13, 2018, Franklin was reported to be gravely ill at her home near Detroit. She was then reported to be under hospice care and surrounded by friends and family. After complications from advanced pancreatic cancer, Franklin died at home on August 16, 2018. Throughout her five-decade career, Aretha Franklin has won a plethora of awards including 18 Grammy Awards. In 1987, Franklin became the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
She was then inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005, and the GMA Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2012. Franklin remains one of the biggest-selling musical artists of all time, having sold over 80 million records worldwide. She will be missed tremendously.
Ashly E. Smith is an author, poet, columnist, and freelance writer from Baltimore, Maryland. With her strong pop culture and entertainment backgrounds, Ashly strives to create articles that inspire as well as entertain.