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In 1987, Aretha Franklin became the first female inductee in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2008, Rolling Stone magazine named her the number one greatest singer of all time. Perhaps her greatest honor, however, is much less official: To music fans everywhere, she is the undisputed “Queen of Soul.”
“Music Was Always in the Air.”
Aretha Louise Franklin was born March 25, 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee. She grew up in Detroit, where she lived from the age of two.
Her father, C.L. Franklin, served as Pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church. In her autobiography, Aretha: From These Roots (co-written with David Ritz), Franklin recalled that her father preached on the radio and traveled the country due to his radio sermons. Her father also knew famed African American musicians such as Clara Ward, Mahalia Jackson, Sam Cooke and Nat King Cole. In her autobiography, she describes her childhood home, noting that “music was always in the air.”
The Queen of Soul
In 1960, Aretha Franklin signed with Columbia Records. A few of her Columbia singles – including “Operation Heartbreak” and “It Won’t Be Long” – were hits on the R&B charts. She also had one pop chart hit – “Rock-a-Bye Your Body with a Dixie Melody.”
In 1966, she switched to Atlantic Records. There, her reign as Queen of Soul truly began. Hits included “I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love You),” “Baby I Love You,” “Chain of Fools,” “Since You’ve Been Gone,” “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman,” “Think” and, of course, “Respect,” to name but a few. Franklin’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum Web site biography describes “Respect” (a song written by Otis Redding) as “Franklin’s greatest triumph” and “an early volley in the women’s movement.”
A New Phase
Franklin’s career entered a new phase in 1980. That year, she left Atlantic for Arista and made a cameo appearance in the movie The Blues Brothers. Her hit albums for Arista included Jump to It and Get it Right (both produced by Luther Vandross) and Who’s Zoomin’ Who. Hit singles included “Jump to It,” “Freeway of Love” and “Who’s Zoomin’ Who.” In the 1980s, she also recorded duets with Annie Lennox (“Sisters are Doing it For Themselves”), Keith Richards (a cover of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” that appeared in the Whoopi Goldberg film of the same name) and Elton John (“Through the Storm”). In 1990s, she performed at President Bill Clinton’s inaugural celebration, began her own record label (World Class Records, which focused on gospel music) and wrote her autobiography. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in 2005 (See photo below.) and sang at President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009 (See photo above.).
To date, Aretha Franklin has had forty-five top forty singles – more than any other female artist. She has won twenty-one Grammy awards. Many feel that she is history’s greatest female soul singer. Her “Queen of Soul” title will likely remain for many, many years to come.
Click on the titles to retrieve online catalog records.
Aretha: From the Roots by Aretha Franklin and David Ritz.
The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll (3rd Edition). Edited by Holly George-Warren and Patricia Romanowski.
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“Thinking of Aretha” by Bob Herbert. New York Times. December 24, 2010
Aretha Franklin Biography. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum Web Site.
Aretha Franklin’s Performance At Barack Obama’s Inauguration: A Milestone In A Historic Career by Jon Weiderhorn. MTV News. January 20, 209