Aretha Louise Franklin (March 25, 1942 – August 16, 2018) was an American singer, songwriter, and pianist.
On March 25, 1942, Aretha Louise Franklin was born at 406 Lucy Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee, to Barbara (née Siggers) and Clarence LaVaughn “C. L.” Franklin. Her father was a Baptist minister and circuit preacher originally from Shelby, Mississippi, while her mother was an accomplished piano player and vocalist.
The family moved to Buffalo, New York, when Aretha was just two, and then, before her fifth birthday, to Detroit, where her father took over the pastorship of the New Bethel Baptist Church.
Aretha’s parents had a troubled marriage and in 1948, they separated, with Barbara moving back to Buffalo with her son, Vaughn, from a previous relationship. Barbara died of a heart attack on March 7, 1952, just before Aretha’s tenth birthday. Several women, including Aretha’s grandmother and Mahalia Jackson took turns helping looking after Aretha and during this time, she learned how to play piano by ear.
Aretha’s father’s emotionally driven sermons resulted in him becoming known as the man with the “million-dollar voice” and earning thousands of dollars for sermons in many churches across the country. His celebrity status led to his home being visited by various celebrities, including gospel musicians Clara Ward, James Cleveland, Albertina Walker and Inez Andrews as well as Martin Luther King Jr., Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke. Ward also served as a role model to the young Aretha who attended Northern High School until she dropped out during her sophomore year
As a child she began her singing gospel at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, where her father was minister. She eventually embarked on recording career in 1960, at the age of 18, recording for Columbia Records, achieving modest success. She only achieved commercial success and acclaim after signing to Atlantic Records in 1966, when she recorded classic songs including “Respect”, “Chain of Fools”, “Think”, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”, “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)”, and “I Say a Little Prayer”.
By the end of the 1960s, Aretha Franklin was being called “The Queen of Soul“. She recorded acclaimed albums such as I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You (1967), Lady Soul (1968), Spirit in the Dark (1970), Young, Gifted and Black (1972), Amazing Grace (1972), and Sparkle (1976). However, she then had problems with her record company, Atlantic, and left them in 1979. She then signed with Arista Records and found success again with the albums Jump to It (1982) and Who’s Zoomin’ Who? (1985) and also with her part in the fantastic 1980 film The Blues Brothers.
Aretha received international acclaim for singing the opera aria “Nessun dorma” at the 1998 Grammy Awards, where she replaced the tenor opera singer Luciano Pavarotti. Later in 1998, she scored her final Top 40 song with the wonderful song “A Rose Is Still a Rose”.
During her career, Aretha Franklin recorded 112 charted singles on Billboard, including 17 top-ten pop singles and 20 number-one R&B singles, becoming the most charted female artist in history. She also won 18 Grammy Awards, including the first eight awards given for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, yes that’s right the first eight, from 1968 to 1975.
Aretha Franklin received many honors throughout her career, including being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in 1987, as the first female performer to be inducted, the National Medal of Arts awarded by President Bill Clinton, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded by President George W Bush. She was also inducted to the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005 and to the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2012. She is listed in two of Rolling Stone magazine’s all-time lists, being included in the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time and the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. She was also ranked by Rolling Stone as the No. 1 greatest singer of all time, in 2008, and was one of the best-selling musical artists of all time, selling more than 75 million records worldwide
Aretha had four sons, first becoming pregnant at the age of 12 and giving birth to Clarence, named after her father, on January 28, 1955, and then on January 22, 1957, aged 14, she had her second child, named Edward. Her third child, Ted White Jr., was born in February 1964 and is known professionally as Teddy Richards. He provided guitar backing for his mother’s band during live concerts. Her youngest son, Kecalf Cunningham, was born in 1970 and is the child of her road manager Ken Cunningham.
Franklin was married twice. Her first husband was Ted White, who she married in 1961. After a contentious marriage, that involved domestic violence, she divorced him in 1969. She then married her second husband, actor Glynn Turman, on April 11, 1978 at her father’s church. Franklin and Turman separated in 1982 and they divorced in 1984.
Aretha Franklin was singing at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas, on June 10, 1979, when her father was shot twice at point blank range in his Detroit home. After six months at Henry the Ford Hospital while still in a coma, he was moved to his home with 24-hour nursing care and he eventually died on July 27, 1984.
Some of Aretha’s music business friends included Dionne Warwick, Mavis Staples, and Cissy Houston, who began singing with Franklin as members of the Sweet Inspirations. Aretha Franklin first met Cissy’s daughter, Whitney Houston, in the early 1970s.
On August 13, 2018, Aretha Franklin was reported to be gravely ill, under hospice care and surrounded by friends and family at her home in Detroit. Stevie Wonder, Jesse Jackson and even her ex-husband Glynn Turman visited her on her deathbed. Sadly, Aretha died at her home on August 16, 2018, aged 76, with the cause reported as a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor. Many celebrities and politicians paid tribute to Aretha, including former U.S. President Barack Obama who said she “helped define the American experience” and the civil rights activist and Minister Al Sharpton who called her a “civil rights and humanitarian icon”.
A memorial service was held at the New Bethel Baptist Church, where her father had been a minister, on August 19. A private funeral was held on August 31, 2018, following an unprecedented two-day public viewing of Aretha “The Queen on Soul” Franklin’s casket at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit.
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