Black History Month: Aretha Franklin

She was born Aretha Louise Franklin, on March 25, 1942, in Memphis, TN. During her life, the woman who could be dubbed. “The Queen of Soul.” was nominated for an astonishing 44 Grammy Awards, winning 18. The amazing songstress won 8-straight Grammy Awards for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance from 1968-1975.

During Franklin’s career, 112 of her singles made the charts on the US Billboard charts. Of those singles, 73 made the top 100, with 17 of them hitting the top 10. She had 100 R&B entries was 20 of them too the #1 spot during her career.

Aretha Franklin performs during "The Gospel Tradition: In Performance at the White House" in the East Room of the White House, April 14, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.
Aretha Franklin performs during “The Gospel Tradition: In Performance at the White House” in the East Room of the White House, April 14, 2015.

Honored throughout her life

For her Franklin’s contributions to the arts, the Queen of Soul was honored with a National Medal of Arts and a Presidential Medal of Freedom. She holds the honor of being the first female artist to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She’s also in the UK Music Hall of Fame and the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Rolling Stone magazine has Franklin ranked #1 on it’s list of the “100 Greatest Singers of All Time.” She was posthumously awarded a special citation by the Pulitzer Prize jury in 2019. In 2020 Franklin was posthumously inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Humble beginnings

Franklin was born to Barbara (née Siggers) and Clarence LeVaughn “C.L.” Franklin in her family’s home located at 406 Lucy Avenue in Memphis. The foundation for Franklin’s style and influence were grounded in the church. Franklin’s father was a highly popular Baptist minister and circuit preacher. Her mother was a piano player and vocalist.

Franklin’s parents would divorce when she was 6-years old. Her father had moved the family to Detroit, where Franklin stayed while her mother and half-brother moved to Buffalo, NY. Franklin said that she’d see her mother during the summer and that her mother would also come to visit her in Detroit. On March 7, 1952, Franklin’s mother died suddenly of a heart attack. Franklin was 9-years old at the time.

It was after the death of her mother when other family members stepped in to help raise her in Detroit. Her grandmother helped her and the family, as did renowned singer Mahalia Jackson. Franklin took to music and learned to play the piano by ear, while learning to sing gospel music.

In the company of Greats

There was no shortage of celebrities visiting the Franklin household. This was due to her father’s celebrity status as a preacher. C.L. Franklin earned thousands of dollars for sermons he gave at churches across the country. He was dubbed as “the man with the million-dollar voice.” The celebrities who visited the Franklin home included: Gospel musicians Clara Ward, James Cleveland, Albertina Walker, and Inez Andrews. Martin Luther King, Jr. visited the home on several occasions. Other visitors included Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke.

In an interview later in her life, Franklin spoke about being raised around the greats, “I remember singing around the house to records that were playing. All kinds of music. And the great James Cleveland was often in our house, and I grew up with his sound as well.”

Franklin’s musical gifts were apparent early in her life. When she was 12-years old, her father started managing her. He would take the young Franklin with him on his traveling sermons so that she could perform at the churches. Her first recording deal with J.V.B. Records resulted in her first singles, “Never Grow Old” and “you Grow Closer” being released when she was 16-years old. Franklin’s early success was one of the reasons that she dropped out of high school during her sophomore year.

Aretha Franklin birthplace at 406 Lucy Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee. (Snow flurries in the pictures.)
Aretha Franklin birthplace at 406 Lucy Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee. (Snow flurries in the pictures.)

Signed with Columbia Records

When Franklin turned 18 in 1960, she signed with Columbia Records. Franklin and her father moved to New York so that she could pursue a career in pop music. C.L. Franklin continued to be her manager.

In September of 1960, Franklin’s first Columbia single, “Today I Sing the Blues,” reached the top 10 on the Hot Rhythm & Blues Sellers chart. The release of those singles would be followed by the release of her first album, Aretha: With The Ray Bryant Combo. Her song, “Won’t Be long,” found a spot in the Billboard Hot 100, and peaked at number 7 on the R&B chart. It was a solid start in the music world for the gifted 19-year old.

The year 1961 also saw the release of Franklin’s first hit-single, “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody.” Later that same year she was named “new-star female vocalist,” by Downbeat magazine.

Publicity photo of Aretha Franklin from Billboard, February 17, 1968.
Publicity photo of Aretha Franklin from Billboard, February 17, 1968.

The Queen of Soul

It as during a performance at the Regal Theater in Chicago in the 1960s when WVON radio personality Pervis Spann declared that Franklin should be crowned “the Queen of Soul.” Spann then placed a ceremonial crown on Franklin’s head.

Franklin ventured into pop music in 1964 and it wasn’t long before she continued serving notice to the world that she had ascended to the throne as the Queen of Soul. In 1965, Franklin hit the top 10 on the R&B charts with “Runnin’ Out of Fools.” Her songs stayed in the top of the Billboard Hot 100, R&B, and Rhythm and Soul charts throughout the next two decades.

Her career would explode in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Her success and collecting of accolades continued throughout the next 5 decades. Franklin was nominated for Grammy Awards in 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1986, 1987, 1988,  1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1999, 2000, 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2011. Franklin was also nominated for 11 American Music Awards, winning 6.

A chain of hits

Franklin’s biggest hits included; “Chain of Fools, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” “Respect,” “Freeway of Love,” “Baby I Love You,” “Spanish Harlem,” and “Dr. Feelgood (Love Is Serious Business). She also covered the Beatles’ song, “Eleanor Rigby,” and Adele’s “Rolling In The Deep.”

When it came to referencing a song that is considered to be one of her greatest hits of all time, “Respect,” Franklin commented, “We all require and want respect, man or woman, black or white. It’s our basic human right.”

In an interview about her life, Franklin spoke about finding the right man, “The man who gets me is getting one hell of a woman.”

Illness and death

On August 13, 2018, Franklin was reported to be seriously ill and under hospice care. She passed away 3-days later on August 16, at the age of 76. Franlink surrounded by her friends and family. She was visited on her deathbed by Stevie Wonder, Jesse Jackson, and former husband Glynn Turman. The cause of death was a malignant neuroendocrine tumor.

Franklin had continued performing up until the end of her life. In an interview with AARP magazine, she was quoted as saying, “Always semi-retire, never retire…who wants to just sit somewhere? I’m a people person…and I love performing. It’s the way it is and the way it’s going to be.”

Tributes poured in from around the world. Thousands pay their respects at public lying-in-repose at the Charles H. Wright Museaum of African American History. Her Homegoing Service was held on August 31, at the Greater Grace Temple in Detroit. News agencies such as Fox News, CNN, The Word Network, BET, and MSNBC streamed the service. Those who attended the service included former president Bill Clinton, Faith Hill, Ronald Isley, Queen Latifah, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, Tyler Perry, as well as dozens of other celebrities from every area of entertainment.

Franklin requested that the Rev. Jasper Williams Jr of the Salem Baptist Church in Atlanta. Williams had eulogized Franklin’s father in 1984. The great singer was laid to rest at Woodlawn Cemetery in Detroit.

Ultimately, Franklin was remembered, not just for her music, but also for her support of all people. She was known for her support of Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, Children’s Rights, and support of the elderly. She was also known for her faith in her religion and her support of not judging people, “You cannot define a person just on one thing. You can’t just forget all these wonderful and good thins that a person has done because one thing didn’t come off the way you thought it should come off.”

Franklin’s wealth was reported as around $80 million when she passed away. It was a wealth that she started accumulating at 12-years old and continued to build on for the next 74-years.

February is Black History Month, a time devoted to recognizing the contributions of African-Americans throughout history.

© 2022, sheconquers. All rights reserved.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.