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*Aretha Franklin was born on this date in 1942. She was one of the last two centuries' most accomplished and influential vocalists.
She was born in Memphis and grew up in Detroit, where her father, the Rev. C. L. Franklin, was the pastor at the New Bethel Baptist Church. She began singing church music early and recorded her first album, The Gospel Sound of Aretha Franklin, for the Checker label at age 14.
Her early influences included secular singers like Dinah Washington, Sam Cooke, LaVern Baker, and Ruth Brown. Franklin signed with Columbia Records in 1960, yet her tenure at Columbia was open to doubt, and she found her dabbling in pop and jazz styles. Columbia’s white Eurocentric ideals misunderstood her brilliance.
With her switch to Atlantic Records in 1966, Franklin helped usher in an era of fresh, straightforward soul music. It began with her first single for the label I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Loved You). Her next single was Respect, a fervent reworking of an Otis Redding song. She worked with producer Jerry Wexler, engineer Tom Dowd, and arranger Arif Mardin. Franklin rewrote the working model of soul music in the late Sixties with a string of smash crossover singles. Examples included Chain of Fools, Think, and A Natural Woman (You Make Me Feel).
The Seventies brought continued success to Franklin, who has charted more million-sellers than any other woman in recording history. "Lady Soul" (as she was dubbed) released Spirit in the Dark and Young, Gifted and Black. Her long tenure with Atlantic ended in 1980, and she signed with Arista. There, she recorded everything from gospel to dance music, including Freeway of Love and I Knew You Were Waiting (for Me). In 1987, she became the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Franklin backed out of the spotlight in 1988 when her sister Carolyn, her brother, and her manager all died. A long line of accolades followed, a performance at President Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration and countless minor projects such as a biography and television special. In 1998, Franklin recorded A Rose Is Still a Rose.
Known as the "Queen of Soul," she remains one of the greatest vocalists of the age, a singer of great passion and control whose finest recordings characterize the term soul music in all its deep, expressive glory.
Atlantic Records co-founder Ahmet Ertegun said, "I don’t think there’s anybody I have known who possesses an instrument like hers and who has such a thorough background in gospel, the blues and the essential black-music idiom. She was blessed with an extraordinary combination of remarkable inner-city sophistication and of the deep blues feeling that comes from the South. The results, maybe she is the greatest singer of our time."
The 18-time Grammy Award winner has shaped episodes of American history. She performed “Precious Lord” at Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral in 1968 and was the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
Franklin, diagnosed with cancer in 2010, was performing until she announced she’d be stepping down from the stage. “I must tell you, I am retiring this year,” Franklin said in an interview with Detroit Local 4 in February 2017. “I feel very enriched and satisfied with respect to where my career came from and where it is now.”
Her last performance was on Nov. 2, 2017, for the Elton John AIDS Foundation in New York. Her final public performance was at Philadelphia’s Mann Center in August 2017. In 2018, she was asking for prayers from fans. Aretha Franklin died on August 16th, 2018, surrounded by her family in Detroit, Michigan.
ASCAP Biographical Dictionary
R. R. Bowker Co., Copyright 1980
Heart & Soul
A Celebration of Black Music Style in America 1930-1975
by Merlis Davin Seay, Forward by Etta James
Copyright 2002, Billboard Books