Aretha Franklin: The Icon, The Diva, The QUEEN OF SOUL

Today, the music world mourns the loss of the soulfully iconic Aretha Franklin.

She was born on March 25, 1942, in  Memphis, Tennessee. It is often said that Aretha was born with soul in her veins as her father, C. L., was a gospel singer in the Baptist church who was known nationwide as “The Man with the Million-Dollar Voice.” C.L did Aretha and the rest of her siblings one better when he moved the family in 1944 to center of the music, Detroit, Michigan. As a child, Aretha taught herself how to play piano by watching her father and other musicians in her church. Aretha then began singing with her sisters in the church choir. Aretha gained her hard work ethic with music from her father as she had the opportunity as a young girl to tour the gospel circuit with her father. It was during this time that Aretha became acquainted with artists such as Mahalia Jackson and Smokey Robinson. She was also able to form relationships with many civil rights leaders including the great, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesse Jackson.  In 1956, at the tender age of 14, she gave birth to her first son while also releasing her first gospel album, Songs of Faith. Her album spread like wildfire through the gospel music realm and managed to catch the ears of secular artist such as Sam Cook.

Aretha signed to Columbia Records in 1960 and relocated to NYC with her now two sons,  to begin her career. Working with producer John Hammond, Aretha would find early success, releasing nine albums and several R&B hits in a relatively short five year span. She managed to get a hit in the Top 40 pop with her 1961 single, “Rock-a-bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody.”  However, this was just the beginning for Aretha who had yet to reach her full potential. In 1966, she signed with Atlantic Records where she had the right chemistry to work wonders in the studio as she tapped her inner gospel feel into a framework of pop. 

The albums Aretha Arrives (1967), Lady Soul (1968) and Aretha Now (1968) were all key in introducing the world to the true Queen of Soul. It was during this reign where the world was exposed to the legendary hits “Respect,” “Think,” “Chain of Fools,” “Baby, I Love You,” “Since You’ve Been Gone” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.”

Aretha also used her platform as a world renown singer to become a symbol of pride for black Americans at the height of the Civil Rights Movement and a symbol of strength for women as the feminist movement began to gain attention.

It is evident to the world that Aretha lived a life of many highs that where seen by most, yet in her personal life she also experienced many lows seen by few. In the late 1960s she was arrested twice, for disorderly conduct and reckless driving as she had developed an alcohol problem that she used to cope with the stresses of being a star. She also was in a abusive marriage to Ted White, but Franklin persevered through it all and carried her soul filled voice to the 1970s. It was the hits “Don’t Play That Song” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water” that gave Aretha more million-sellers than any woman in history (Broken by Nicki Minaj). In 1972, Aretha went back to her gospel roots releasing her  album, Amazing Grace, which became the best-selling gospel album of all time.

Aretha allowed her sound to be versatile during this time as well began working alongside the illustrious Curtis Mayfield and Quincy Jones ,for her  1975 hit “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing.” 

Her rolling thunder of a career came to a holt during the late 1970's due to her flop album "La Diva" and her father being shot during a home invasion and dying Several years later from complications related to his injuries.

In 1980 she left Atlantic and signed with Arista Records. As expected, Aretha managed a return to the top of the charts with her 1982 album, Jump to It (produced by Luther Vandross).In 1985 she released her album Who’s Zoomin’ Who, which became her first platinum album.

In recognition of her ongoing chart-topping and award-winning achievements over 2 decades, in 1987 Aretha Franklin became the first woman to earn induction into the Rock and

Roll Hall of Fame. Though this honorable award was followed by a decreased popularity as a contemporary artist , Aretha remained both active and successful. Her 1989 album, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, received a Grammy for Best Soul Gospel Album. In 1994 she received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy and Kennedy Center Honors. 

Aretha continued to tour even upon learning that she had pancreatic cancer in 2009. Her sickness did not stop her from performing at President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration or Super Bowl XL. Her dynamic and impactful sound did not go unnoticed as she has received 44 Grammy nominations and 18 Grammy awards. She will be succeeded in death by her four sons and will remain in the hearts of the many fans she has touched over her lifetime. Her music will live on in our hearts forevermore.

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