Aretha Louise Franklin (born March 25, 1942) is an American singer and musician. Franklin began her career singing gospel at her father, minister C. L. Franklin's church as a child. In 1960, at age 18, Franklin embarked on a secular career, recording for Columbia Records only achieving modest success. Following her signing to Atlantic Records in 1967, Franklin achieved commercial acclaim and success with songs such as "Respect", "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" and "Think". These hits and more helped her to gain the title The Queen of Soul by the end of the 1960s decade.
Franklin eventually recorded a total of 88 charted singles on Billboard, including 77 Hot 100 entries and twenty number-one R&B singles, becoming the most charted female artist in the chart's history. Franklin also recorded acclaimed albums such as I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, Lady Soul, Young, Gifted & Black and Amazing Grace before experiencing problems with her record company by the mid-1970s. After her father was shot in 1979, Franklin left Atlantic and signed with Arista Records, finding success with a cameo role in the film, The Blues Brothers and with the albums, Jump to It and Who's Zoomin' Who?. In 1998, Franklin won international acclaim for singing the opera aria, "Nessun Dorma", at the Grammys of that year replacing Luciano Pavarotti. Later that same year, she scored her final Top 40 recording with "A Rose Is Still a Rose".
Franklin has won a total of 18 Grammy Awards and is one of the best-selling female artists of all time, having sold over 75 million records worldwide. Franklin has been honored throughout her career including a 1987 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in which she became the first female performer to be inducted. She was inducted to the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005. In August 2012, Franklin was inducted into the GMA Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Franklin is listed in at least two all-time lists on Rolling Stone magazine, including the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, in which she placed number 9, and the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time in which she placed number 1.
Aretha Louise Franklin was born in Memphis, Tennessee, the daughter of Barbara (née) Siggers and Clarence LaVaughn Franklin. Her father, who went by the nickname, "C. L.", was an itinerant preacher originally from Shelby, Mississippi, while her mother was an accomplished piano player and vocalist. Alongside Aretha, her parents had three other children while both C. L. and Barbara had children from outside their marriage. The family relocated to Buffalo, New York when Aretha was two. Prior to her fifth birthday, C. L. Franklin permanently relocated the family to Detroit, Michigan where he founded the Baptist church, New Bethel. Franklin's parents had a troubled marriage due to stories of C. L. Franklin's philandering and in 1948, they separated, with Barbara relocating back to Buffalo with her son, Vaughn, from a previous affair.
Contrary to popular notion, Franklin's mother didn't abandon her children and Aretha would recall seeing her mother in Buffalo during summertime while Barbara also frequently visited her children in Detroit. Franklin's mother died on March 7, 1952, prior to Franklin's tenth birthday. Several women, including Franklin's grandmother Rachel, and Mahalia Jackson took turns helping with the children at the Franklin home. During this time, Franklin learned how to play piano by ear. Franklin's father's emotionally-driven sermons resulted in him being known as the man with the "million-dollar voice" and earning over thousands of dollars for sermons in various churches across the country. Franklin's celebrity led to his home being visited by various celebrities including gospel musicians Clara Ward, James Cleveland and early Caravans members Albertina Walker and Inez Andrews as well as Martin Luther King, Jr., Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke.
Just after her mother's death, Aretha began singing solos at New Bethel, debuting with the hymn, "Jesus, Be a Fence Around Me". Four years later, when Aretha was 14, her father began managing her, bringing her on the road with him during his so-called "gospel caravan" tours for her to perform in various churches. He helped his daughter get signed to her first recording deal with J.V.B. Records, where her first album, Songs of Faith, was issued in 1956. Two singles were released to gospel radio stations including "Never Grow Old" and "Precious Lord, Take My Hand". Franklin sometimes traveled with the Caravans and The Soul Stirrers during this time and developed a crush on Sam Cooke, who was then singing with the Soul Stirrers prior to his secular career.
After turning 18, Aretha confided to her father that she aspired to follow Sam Cooke to record pop music. Serving as her manager, C. L. agreed to the move and helped to produce a two-song demo that soon was brought to the attention of Columbia Records, who agreed to sign her in 1960. Franklin was signed as a "five-percent artist". During this period, Franklin would be coached by choreographer Cholly Atkins to prepare for her pop performances. Before signing with Columbia, Sam Cooke tried to persuade Aretha's father to have his label, RCA sign Aretha. He had also been persuaded by local record label owner Berry Gordy to sign Aretha and her elder sister Erma to his Tamla label. Aretha's father felt the label wasn't established enough yet. Aretha's first Columbia single, "Today I Sing the Blues", was issued in September 1960 and later reached the top ten of the Hot Rhythm & Blues Sellers chart.
In January 1961, Columbia issued Aretha's debut album, Aretha: With The Ray Bryant Combo. The album featured her first single to chart the Billboard Hot 100, "Won't Be Long", which also peaked at number 7 on the R&B chart. Mostly produced by Clyde Otis, Franklin's Columbia recordings saw her recording in diverse genres such as standards, vocal jazz, blues, doo-wop and rhythm and blues. Before the year was out, Franklin scored her first top 40 single with her rendition of the standard, "Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody", which also included the R&B hit, "Operation Heartbreak", on its b-side. "Rock-a-Bye" became her first international hit, reaching the top 40 in Australia and Canada. By the end of 1961, Franklin was named as a "new-star female vocalist" in Down Beat magazine. In 1962, Columbia issued two more albums, The Electrifying Aretha Franklin and The Tender, the Moving, the Swinging Aretha Franklin, the latter of which charted number 69 on the Billboard Pop LPs chart.
By 1964, Franklin began recording more pop music, reaching the top ten on the R&B chart with the ballad, "Runnin' Out of Fools" in early 1965. She had two R&B charted singles in 1965 and 1966 with the songs "One Step Ahead" and "Cry Like a Baby" while also reaching the Easy Listening charts with the ballads "You Made Me Love You" and "(No, No) I'm Losing You". By the mid-1960s, Aretha was netting $100,000 from countless performances in nightclubs and theaters. Also during that period, Franklin appeared on rock and roll shows such as Hollywood A Go-Go and Shindig!. However, it was argued that Franklin's potential was neglected at the label. Columbia executive John H. Hammond later said he felt Columbia didn't understand Aretha's early gospel background and failed to bring that aspect out further during her Columbia period.
In January 1967, choosing not to renew her Columbia contract after six years with the company, Franklin signed to Atlantic Records. That month, Aretha traveled to Muscle Shoals, Alabama to record at FAME Studios to record the song, "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)" in front of the musicians of the famed Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. The song was later issued that February and shot up to number-one on the R&B chart, while also peaking at number nine on the Billboard Hot 100, giving Aretha her first top ten pop single. The song's b-side, "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man", reached the R&B top 40, peaking at number 37. In April, Atlantic issued her frenetic version of Otis Redding's "Respect", which shot to number-one on both the R&B and pop charts and later became her signature song and was later hailed as a civil rights and feminist anthem.
Aretha's debut Atlantic album, I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, also became commercially successful, later going gold. Aretha scored two more top ten singles in 1967 including "Baby I Love You" and "(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman". Franklin's rapport with producer Jerry Wexler helped in the creation of the majority of Aretha's peak recordings with Atlantic. In 1968, she issued the top-selling albums, Lady Soul and Aretha Now, which included some of Franklin's most popular hit singles including "Chain of Fools", "Ain't No Way", "Think" and "I Say a Little Prayer". In February 1968, Franklin earned the first two of her Grammys including the debut category for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. On February 16, 1968, Aretha was honored with a day in her honor and was greeted by longtime friend Martin Luther King, Jr. who gave her the SCLC Drum Beat Award for Musicians just two months prior to his death. In June 1968, she appeared on the cover of Time magazine.
Franklin's success expanded during the early 1970s in which she recorded top ten singles such as "Spanish Harlem", "Rock Steady" and "Day Dreaming" as well as the acclaimed albums, Spirit in the Dark, Young, Gifted & Black and her gospel album, Amazing Grace, which sold over two million copies. In 1971, Franklin became the first R&B performer to headline Fillmore West, later recording the live album, Aretha Live at Fillmore West. Franklin's career began experiencing issues while recording the album, Hey Now Hey (The Other Side of the Sky), which featured production from Quincy Jones. Despite the success of the single, "Angel", the album bombed upon its release in 1973. Franklin continued having R&B success with songs such as "Until You Come Back to Me" and "I'm in Love" but by 1975, her albums and songs were failing to become a success. After Jerry Wexler left Atlantic for Warner Bros. Records in 1976, Franklin worked on the soundtrack to the film, "Sparkle", with Curtis Mayfield. The album yielded Aretha's final top 40 hit of the decade, "Something He Can Feel", which also peaked at number-one on the R&B chart. Franklin's follow-up albums for Atlantic including Sweet Passion, Almighty Fire and La Diva bombed on the charts and in 1979, Franklin opted to leave the company.
In 1980, Franklin signed with Clive Davis' Arista Records and that same year, gave a command performance at the Royal Albert Hall in front of Queen Elizabeth. Aretha also made an acclaimed guest role as a waitress in the comedy musical, The Blues Brothers. Franklin's first Arista album, Aretha, featured the #3 R&B hit, "United Together" and her Grammy-nominated cover of Otis Redding's "I Can't Turn You Loose". The follow-up, 1981's Love All the Hurt Away, included her famed duet of the title track with George Benson while the album also included her Grammy-winning cover of Sam & Dave's "Hold On, I'm Comin'". Franklin returned to the Gold standard - for the first time in seven years - with the album, Jump to It. Its title track was her first top 40 single on the pop charts in six years.
In 1985, inspired by her desire to have a "younger sound" in her music, her fourth Arista album, Who's Zoomin' Who, became her first album to be certified platinum, after selling well over a million copies, thanks to the hits, "Freeway of Love", the title track and "Sisters Are Doing It for Themselves". The following year's Aretha album nearly matched this success with the hit singles "Jumpin' Jack Flash", "Jimmy Lee" and "I Knew You Were Waiting for Me", her international number-one duet with George Michael. During that period, Aretha provided vocals to the theme songs of the shows, A Different World and Together. In 1987, she issued her third gospel album, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, which was recorded at her late father's New Bethel church, followed by Through the Storm in 1989. Franklin's 1991 album, What You See is What You Sweat flopped on the charts. Franklin returned to the charts in 1993 with the dance song, "A Deeper Love" and returned to the top 40 with the song, "Willing to Forgive" in 1994.
In 1998, Franklin returned to the top 40 with the Lauryn Hill-produced song, "A Rose Is Still a Rose", later issuing the album of the same name, which went gold. That same year, Franklin earned international acclaim for her performance of "Nessun Dorma" at the Grammy Awards. Her final Arista album, So Damn Happy, was released in 2003 and featured the Grammy-winning song, "Wonderful". In 2004, Franklin announced that she was leaving Arista after over 20 years with the label. To complete her Arista obligations, Aretha issued the duets compilation album, Jewels in the Crown: All-Star Duets with the Queen, in 2007. The following year, she issued the holiday album, This Christmas, Aretha, on DMI Records. In January 2009, Franklin again made international headlines for performing "My Country 'Tis of Thee" at President Barack Obama's inaugural ceremony with her church hat becoming a popular topic online. In 2010, Franklin accepted an honorary degree from Yale University. In 2011, under her own label, Aretha's Records, she issued the album, Aretha: A Woman Falling Out Of Love. As of 2013, Franklin is now signed under RCA Records and is currently working again with Clive Davis. A new album is in the works with producers Babyface and Danger Mouse planning to work with Franklin.
Music style and image
Franklin has often been described as a great singer and musician due to "vocal flexibility, interpretive intelligence, skillful piano-playing, her ear, her experience." Franklin's voice has been described as being a "powerful mezzo-soprano voice" and has been praised for her arrangements and interpretations of other artists' hit songs. Of describing Franklin's voice as a youngster on her first album, Songs of Faith, released when she was just fourteen, Jerry Wexler explained that Franklin's voice "was not that of a child but rather of an ecstatic hierophant." Franklin's image went through rapid changes throughout her career. During the 1960s, Franklin was known for wearing bouffant hairdos and extravagant dresses that were sometimes surrounded enveloped in either mink fur or feathers. In the 1970s, embracing her roots, Franklin briefly wore the Afro hairdo and wore Afrocentric styled clothing admired by her peers. In the mid-1970s, after dropping weight, Franklin began wearing slinkier attire. By the 1980s, she had settled on wearing nightgowns and extravagant dresses.
Aretha is the mother of four sons. Her first two children, Clarence (born January 28, 1955), and Edward (born January 22, 1957), were born before her 13th and 15th birthdays. She has never identified the father of either child. During that period, Aretha's grandmother, Rachel, and sister, Erma, raised Aretha's boys while she pursued her musical career and other options including "hanging out with my friends". Rachel lived in a guest house behind her son C. L. Franklin's LaSalle Street home, with the Franklins having moved there from their Boston Street residence during the late 1950s. Aretha's third child, Ted White, Jr., was born in 1964. Today he is known as Teddy Richards and is a professional musician, often playing guitar in his mother's band. In 1970, an affair with her road manager, Ken Cunningham, resulted in the birth of Aretha's fourth son, Kecalf. (His name was devised from the first initials of his parents' names.) Aretha had married the much older Ted White in 1961, despite strong objections from her father. After a contentious marriage that involved domestic violence, she divorced him in 1969. She married actor Glynn Turman on April 11, 1978 at her father's New Bethel Baptist Church. Aretha subsequently became a stepmother to Turman's three children. They split in late 1982 and officially divorced in early 1984. In 2012, Aretha Franklin again announced plans to walk down the aisle with her longtime companion Willie Wilkerson. Within several weeks of the announcement, Aretha called the wedding off.
Aretha's sisters Erma and Carolyn were also professional musicians and often sung background on Aretha's hits. In 1969, following her divorce from Ted White, her brother, minister Cecil Franklin presided as her manager, a position he kept until his death from lung cancer on December 26, 1989. Youngest sister Carolyn preceded Cecil in death in April 1988 following a long bout with breast cancer. Erma Franklin later died of throat cancer in September 2002. Franklin's half-brother, Vaughn (born December 24, 1934) and half-sister Carl Kelley (née Jennings; born 1940) are still alive. Kelley is C. L. Franklin's daughter by Mildred Jennings, a then 12-year-old congregant of New Salem Baptist Church in Memphis, where C. L. was pastor.
Aretha was performing 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 in Henry Ford Hospital, the Franklin family returned their father back to his home with round the clock nursing care. The shooting had left C. L. in a coma. Aretha moved back to Detroit in late 1982 to assist with the care of her father, who died at Detroit's New Light Nursing Home on July 27, 1984.
Franklin had been romantically linked to many musicians such as Sam Cooke and Dennis Edwards, formerly of The Temptations. Some of her music business friends have included Dionne Warwick, Mavis Staples, and Cissy Houston, who began singing with Aretha as member of the Sweet Inspirations. Cissy sang background on Franklin's classic hit, "Ain't No Way". Aretha first met her daughter, Whitney, in the early 1970s. She was made an honorary aunt and Whitney often referred to her as "Auntie Ree". Whitney Houston died in February 2012. Franklin stated she was surprised by her death. She had initially planned to perform at Houston's memorial service on February 18 but her representative claimed that Aretha suffered a mild leg spasm and was unable to attend. In response to criticism of her non-attendance, she stated, "God knows I wanted to be there, but I couldn't."
Aretha Franklin is a registered Democrat.
Weight issues and health problems
Franklin dealt with weight issues for years. In 1974, she dropped 40 pounds during a crash diet. Franklin maintained the weight loss until 1978. Franklin again lost the weight in the early 1990s prior to releasing the album, What You See Is What You Sweat, gaining it back again after a year and a half. Franklin later admitted to years of yo-yo dieting. Following her surgery to get rid of an undisclosed tumor, Franklin lost 85 lbs. In 2012, she admitted she had gained some of the weight back. During her heyday, it's been noted that Franklin had dealt with alcoholism and also had an addiction to chain smoking, smoking at least ten packs of cigarettes a day. Franklin quit smoking in 1992. Franklin admitted in 1994 that her smoking was "messing with my voice". She later admitted in 2003 that following her quitting cigarettes, her weight "ballooned".
In 2010, Franklin canceled a number of concerts after she decided to have surgery for an undisclosed tumor. Discussing the events in 2011, she stated the surgery Franklin had would "add 15 to 20 more years" to her life. She denied that the ailment had anything to do with pancreatic cancer as it was rumored. On May 19, 2011 Aretha Franklin had her comeback show in the Chicago theatre, an outstanding concert. In May 2013, Franklin canceled two performances to deal with an undisclosed medical treatment. Later in the same month, Franklin canceled three more concerts in June and planned to return to perform in July. However, a July 27 show in Clarkston, Michigan was canceled due to continued medical treatment. In addition, Franklin canceled an appearance at an MLB luncheon in Chicago honoring her commitment to civil rights on an August 24 date. She also canceled a September 21 performance in Atlanta due to her health recovery. During a phone interview with The Associated Press on August 21, Franklin stated that she had a "miraculous" recovery from her undisclosed illness but had to cancel shows and appearances until she was at 100% health, stating she was "85% healed".
In 1987, Franklin was the first female performer inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Two years earlier, the Michigan government labeled her voice as a "natural resource". Franklin received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1979. In 1994, she received a medal from the Kennedy Center Honors and that year won the NARAS Lifetime Achievement Award. She won the NARAS Grammy Legend award four years prior. In 1999, she earned the National Medal of Arts. In 2005, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Franklin was inducted to the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005, becoming the second female performer to be honored after Madonna. In 2008, she received the MusiCares Person of the Year prior to performing at that year's Grammys. That same year, she was listed in the top 20 of artists on the Billboard Hot 100 all-time top artists list. In 2012, she was inducted to the GMA Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Franklin has been described as "the voice of the civil rights movement, the voice of black America" and a "symbol of black equality". She was also listed as number 1 on Rolling Stone's list of the Greatest Singers of All Time. In February 2011, following news of her surgery and recovery, the Grammy Awards paid tribute to the singer with a medley of her classics by singers such as Christina Aguilera, Florence Welch, Jennifer Hudson, Martina McBride and Yolanda Adams.
- The Blues Brothers (1980)
- Blues Brothers 2000 (1998)
- Bego, Mark (Feb 10, 2010). Aretha Franklin: The Queen of Soul. Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0-78675-229-4.
- Dobkin, Matt (2006). I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You: Aretha Franklin, Respect, and the Making Of A Soul Music Masterpiece. New York: St. Martin's Griffin. ISBN 0-312-31828-6.
- Feiler, Bruce (October 6, 2009). America's Prophet. HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-06193-925-9.
- McAvoy, Jim (2002). Aretha Franklin. Infobase Publishing. ISBN 978-1-43812-161-1.
- McMahon, Thomas (2000). Creative and Performing Artists for Teens. Gale Group. ISBN 978-0-78763-975-4.
- "Queen of Soul's Father Rev. C. L. Franklin, 69, Dies After 5 Years In Coma". Jet.
- "Rev. C. L. Franklin shot". Baltimore Afro-American. June 12, 1979.
- "Aretha Franklin Returns With Soulful CD, 'So Damn Happy'". Jet. September 29, 2003.
- "Aretha Talks About Men, Marriage, Music & Motherhood". Ebony. April 1995.
- "Swingin' Aretha". Ebony.
- "The New Aretha". Ebony.
- Whitaker, Matthew C. (March 1, 2011). Icons of Black America: Breaking Barriers and Crossing Boundaries [Three Volumes] (Google eBook). ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-0-31337-643-6.
- Aretha Franklin at Legacy Recordings
- Appearances on C-SPAN
- Aretha Franklin at the Internet Movie Database
- Aretha Franklin at NPR Music
- Aretha Franklin collected news and commentary at The New York Times
- Works by or about Aretha Franklin in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- Aretha Franklin at Answers.com
- Aretha Franklin discography at Discogs
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Image from Discogs