Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Franklin, Aretha

The “Queen of Soul” Aretha Louise Franklin was born in Memphis, Tennessee on March 25, 1942 to the Reverend Clarence L. Franklin and Barbara V. Siggers. When she was two years old her family moved to Detroit, Michigan where her father became minister at New Bethel Baptist Church. Both parents were gospel singers but her mother, later separated from Franklin’s father, died when Franklin was ten.

Living in the church parish house on Boston Boulevard and Oakland Avenue, Aretha was exposed at an early age to such music legends as Art Tatum and Nat King Cole, when they visited her father. Unchallenged by piano lessons she taught herself to play by ear. She grew up with Smokey Robinson in a neighborhood that spawned the Four Tops, Diana Ross and Jackie Wilson. Franklin’s father and gospel singer Clara Ward were major influences, according to Franklin’s autobiography Aretha, From These Roots. Franklin sang her first solo in her father’s church at age nine or ten. Her first recording, made by Chess Records when she was 16, had nine sacred songs recorded live. When she was 17, Franklin’s father decided that after five years of singing with his traveling gospel show, she was ready to pursue her singing in New York City.

In 1967, the year “Respect” hit the charts, Franklin was crowned “Queen of Soul” by Chicago DJ Pervis Spann. From there Aretha would come to have 20 number one R&B hits and garner more than 20 Grammy Awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994. Her record labels include Columbia, Atlantic and Arista among others. She never recorded for Motown Records.

Franklin had many honors bestowed upon her, such as singing at the inaugurations of three U.S. Presidents, and being the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in 1987. Her song “Respect,” was described as “an anthem for the Civil Rights movement,” and in February 1968 Martin Luther King, Jr. presented her with an honorary award from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She sang at his funeral two months later.

Though her career continued to rise, Franklin’s personal life was somewhat troubled at times. Her marriage to Ted White ended in 1969. In 1979 her father was shot in his home and remained in a coma for five years before dying. Even with those hardships, Franklin continued to thrive, being nominated for or winning Grammy Awards over four decades. In 1980, she even made a cameo appearance in the film, The Blues Brothers.

In 1985 Aretha Franklin made a comeback with her 30th album, Who’s Zoomin’ Who? She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005. In 2008 she became MusiCares’ “Person of the Year” and she won her 21st Grammy at the 2008 50th Annual Grammy Awards.

Franklin had four sons and was married and divorced two times. She died on August 16, 2018 of pancreatic cancer and lay in state at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and New Bethel Baptist Church for three days. Her funeral service, attended by Smokey Robinson, President Bill Clinton, the Reverend Jessie Jackson and Stevie Wonder among other dignitaries, was broadcast live on Detroit television stations. The Detroit riverfront arena Chene Park was renamed the Aretha Franklin Amphitheatre in her honor.



Album cover for Aretha Franklin's "Aretha's Gold", 1969

Aretha Franklin on the cover of Ebony Magazine, 1995

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