She was both a 20th and 21st century musical and cultural icon known the world over simply by her first name: Aretha.
Aretha Louise Franklin was born March 25, 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee and died August 16, 2018 in her Detroit home surrounded by friends and family. Franklin’s official cause of death was due to advance pancreatic cancer of the neuroendocrine type, which was confirmed by Franklin’s Oncologist, Dr. Philip Phillips of Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit, MI.”
Aretha Louise Franklin was born March 25, 1942 to Barbara (née Siggers) and Clarence LaVaughn "C. L." Franklin. She was delivered at her family's home located at 406 Lucy Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee. Her father was a Baptist minister and circuit preacher originally from Shelby, Mississippi. Her mother was an accomplished piano player and vocalist. Both Mr. and Mrs. Franklin had children from prior relationships in addition to the four children they had together. When Aretha was two, the family relocated to Buffalo, New York. By the time Aretha turned five, C. L. Franklin had permanently relocated the family to Detroit, where he took over the pastorship of the New Bethel Baptist Church. The Franklins had a troubled marriage due to Mr. Franklin's infidelities, and they separated in 1948. At that time, Barbara Franklin returned to Buffalo with Aretha's half brother, Vaughn. After the separation, Aretha recalled seeing her mother in Buffalo during the summer, and Barbara Franklin frequently visited her children in Detroit. Aretha's mother died of a heart attack on March 7, 1952, before Aretha's tenth birthday. Several women, including Aretha's grandmother, Rachel, and Mahalia Jackson took turns helping with the children at the Franklin home. During this time, Aretha learned how to play piano by ear. She also attended public school in Detroit, going through her freshman year at Northern High School, but dropping out during her sophomore year.
Just after her mother's death, Franklin began singing solos at New Bethel, debuting with the hymn, "Jesus, Be a Fence Around Me". When Franklin was 12, her father began managing her; he would bring her on the road with him during his so-called "gospel caravan" tours for her to perform in various churches. He also helped Franklin sign her first recording deal with J.V.B. Records. Recording equipment was installed inside New Bethel Baptist Church and nine tracks were recorded. Franklin was featured on vocals and piano. In 1956, J-V-B released Franklin's first single, "Never Grow Old", backed with "You Grow Closer". "Precious Lord (Part One)" backed with "Precious Lord (Part Two)" followed in 1959. These four tracks, with the addition of "There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood", were released on side one of the 1956 album, Spirituals. This was reissued by Battle Records in 1962 under the same title. In 1965, Checker Records released Songs of Faith, featuring the five tracks from the 1956 Spirituals album, with the addition of four previously unreleased recordings.
During this time, Franklin would occasionally travel with The Soul Stirrers. According to music producer Quincy Jones, while Franklin was still young, Dinah Washington let him know, "Aretha was the 'next one'". In 1958, Franklin and her father traveled to California, where she met singer Sam Cooke. At the age of 16, Franklin went on tour with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and she would ultimately sing at his funeral in 1968.
As a young gospel singer, Franklin spent summers on the gospel circuit in Chicago and stayed with Mavis Staples' family. After turning 18, Franklin confided to her father that she aspired to follow Sam Cooke in recording pop music, and moved to New York. Serving as her manager, C. L. Franklin 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 Franklin's father to sign her with his label, RCA, but his request was denied. Record label owner Berry Gordy was also looking to sign Franklin and her elder sister Erma to his Tamla label. However, C.L. Franklin felt the label was not yet established enough, and he turned Gordy down. Franklin'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 Franklin's first secular 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 performing 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 DownBeat 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 reached No. 69 on the Billboard chart.
In the 1960s during a performance at the Regal Theater, a WVON radio personality announced Franklin should be crowned, "the Queen of Soul". 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, Franklin was netting $100,000 from countless performances in nightclubs and theaters. Also during that period, she appeared on rock and roll shows such as Hollywood A Go-Go and Shindig!. However, she struggled with commercial success while at Columbia. Label executive John H. Hammond later said he felt Columbia did not understand Franklin's early gospel background and failed to bring that aspect out further during her period there.
In November 1966, Franklin's Columbia recording contract expired and she chose to move to Atlantic Records. In January 1967, she traveled to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, to record at FAME Studios and recorded the song, "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)", backed by the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. Franklin only spent one day recording at FAME, as an altercation broke out between manager and husband Ted White, studio owner Rick Hall, and a horn player, and sessions were abandoned. The song was released the following month and reached number one on the R&B chart, while also peaking at number nine on the Billboard Hot 100, giving Franklin 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 reached number one on both the R&B and pop charts. "Respect" became her signature song and was later hailed as a civil rights and feminist anthem.
Franklin's debut Atlantic album, I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, also became commercially successful, later going gold. Franklin scored two more top-ten singles in 1967, including "Baby I Love You" and "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman". Her rapport with producer Jerry Wexler helped in the creation of the majority of Franklin'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". That February, Franklin earned the first two of her Grammys, including the debut category for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. On February 16, Franklin was honored with a day named for her and was greeted by longtime friend Martin Luther King Jr. who gave her the SCLC Drum Beat Award for Musicians two months before his death.
Franklin's success expanded during the early 1970s, during 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 and Black. She returned to Gospel music in a two-night, live-church recording, with the album, Amazing Grace, in which she reinterpreted standards such as Mahalia Jackson's How I Got Over. Amazing Grace sold more than two million copies. In 1971, Franklin became the first R&B performer to headline Fillmore West, later that year releasing the live album Aretha Live at Fillmore West. Franklin's career began to experience problems while recording the album, Hey Now Hey, 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 no longer top sellers. 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 Franklin'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 (1977), Almighty Fire (1978) and La Diva (1979), bombed on the charts, and in 1979 Franklin left the company.
The Arista era (1980–2007)
In 1980, after leaving Atlantic Records, Franklin signed with Clive Davis's Arista Records and that same year gave a command performance at London's Royal Albert Hall in front of Queen Elizabeth. Franklin also had an acclaimed guest role as a waitress in the 1980 comedy musical The Blues Brothers. Franklin's first Arista album, Aretha (1980), featured the No. 3 R&B hit "United Together" and her Grammy-nominated cover of 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 achieved a gold record—for the first time in seven years—with the 1982 album Jump to It. The album's title track was her first top-40 single on the pop charts in six years. The following year, she released "Get It Right", produced by Luther Vandross. In 1985, inspired by a desire to have a "younger sound" in her music, Who's Zoomin' Who? became her first Arista album to be certified platinum. The album sold well over a million copies thanks to the hits "Freeway of Love", the title track, and "Another Night". The next 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, Franklin provided vocals to the theme songs of the TV 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. She 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, filling in at the last minute for Luciano Pavarotti, who had cancelled after the show had already begun. 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 more than 20 years with the label. To complete her Arista obligations, Franklin 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.
Later years (2008–2018)
Franklin performed "The Star-Spangled Banner" with Aaron Neville and Dr. John for Super Bowl XL, held in her hometown of Detroit in February 2006. She later 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.
In 2014, Franklin was signed under RCA Records, controller of the Arista catalog and a sister label to Columbia via Sony Music Entertainment, and was working with Clive Davis. An album was planned with producers Babyface and Danger Mouse. On September 29, 2014, Franklin performed to a standing ovation, with Cissy Houston as backup, a compilation of Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" and "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" on the Late Show with David Letterman. Franklin's cover of "Rolling in the Deep" was featured among nine other songs in her first RCA release, Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics, released in October 2014. In doing so, she became the first woman to have 100 songs on Billboard′s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart with the success of her cover of Adele's "Rolling in the Deep", which debuted at number 47 on the chart.
In December 2015, Franklin gave an acclaimed performance of "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" at the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors during the section for honoree Carole King, who co-wrote the song. During the bridge of the song, Franklin dropped her fur coat to the stage, for which the audience rewarded her with a mid-performance standing ovation. She returned to Detroit's Ford Field on Thanksgiving Day 2016 to once again perform the national anthem before the game between the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions. Seated behind the piano, wearing a black fur coat and Lions stocking cap, Franklin gave a rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" that lasted more than four minutes and featured a host of improvisations. Franklin released the album A Brand New Me in November 2017 with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, which uses archived recordings from Franklin. It peaked at number 5 on the Billboard Top Classical Albums chart before her death and rose to number 2 after her death.
Legacy and honors
Franklin received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1979, had her voice declared a Michigan "natural resource" in 1985, and became the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences awarded her a Grammy Legend Award in 1991, then the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994. Franklin was a Kennedy Center Honoree in 1994, recipient of the National Medal of Arts in 1999, and was bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005. She was inducted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame in 2005, and the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame in 2015. Franklin became the second woman inducted to the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005. She was the 2008 MusiCares Person of the Year, performing at the Grammys days later.
Franklin received honorary degrees from Harvard University and New York University in 2014, as well as honorary doctorates in music from Princeton University, 2012; Yale University, 2010; Brown University, 2009; University of Pennsylvania, 2007; Berklee College of Music, 2006; New England Conservatory of Music, 1997; and University of Michigan, 1987. Franklin was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by Case Western Reserve University 2011 and Wayne State University in 1990 and an honorary Doctor of Law degree by Bethune–Cookman University in 1975.
Death and funeral
On August 13, 2018, Franklin was reported to be gravely ill at her home in Riverfront Towers, Detroit. She was under hospice care and surrounded by friends and family. Stevie Wonder, Jesse Jackson and ex-husband Glynn Turman visited her on her deathbed. Franklin died at her home on August 16, 2018, aged 76. The cause was reported to be advanced pancreatic cancer of the neuroendocrine type.
The day of her death, Franklin's granddaughter Victorie Franklin posted a tribute to her grandmother on social media. Numerous celebrities in the entertainment industry and politicians paid tribute to Franklin, including former U.S. president Barack Obama who said she "helped define the American experience". Civil rights activist and minister Al Sharpton called her a "civil rights and humanitarian icon".
A memorial service was held at New Bethel Baptist Church on August 19. A funeral was arranged for August 31, following a two-day public viewing of Franklin's casket at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit. The Detroit media went overboard on reporting the Queen of Soul's visitation, detailing what she was wearing like it was a fashion show, even leaking that Swanson's Funeral home said that for each day Aretha lays in state she will wear a different outfit. The Detroit Free Press even had a cover story on a hat that Aretha wore and who made it.
The August 31 Service' included multiple tributes by celebrities, politicians, friends and family members and was streamed by some news agencies such as Fox News, CNN, The Word Network, BET and MSNBC. Among those who paid tribute to Aretha at the service were Ariana Grande, Bill Clinton, Faith Hill, Fantasia, The Clark Sisters, Ronald Isley, Chaka Khan, Jennifer Holliday, Jennifer Hudson, Shirley Caesar, Stevie Wonder, Eric Holder, Gladys Knight, Tyler Perry, Smokey Robinson, and Yolanda Adams. The service was led by Bishop Charles H. Ellis III and was addressed by Rev. Al Sharpton.
At the Funeral Detroit mayor Mike Duggan announced that that he will submit a motion next week to rename Chene Park after the singer. Duggan said his proposal already has the support of the city council and that our beautiful waterfront jewel which faces the Detroit River, will be Aretha Franklin Park.
With 42 studio Albums, 8 Live Albums, 45 Compilation albums and 131 Singles,
Aretha was a very accomplished Musician.
See the Wikipedia listing for her Complete Discography