It was announced this morning that the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, lost her battle with advanced pancreatic cancer at her home in Detroit, Michigan. She was 76 years old.
Aretha Louise Franklin was born on March 25, 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee. While her father, Clarence LaVaughn (C.L.) Franklin, was already somewhat of a star in his own right as one of the top preachers in the country (even garnering visits from Ella Fitzgerald and Martin Luther King, Jr.), he became Aretha’s manager when she was just 14 years old, helping her sign to JVB Records in 1965.
But it was a crush on Sam Cooke that would alter the course of her career: his switch from gospel to pop music inspired her to do the same, and she signed to Columbia records in 1960.
“Nobody embodies more fully the connection between the African-American spiritual, the blues, R&B, rock and roll — the way that hardship and sorrow were transformed into something full of beauty and vitality and hope.”
It was her iconic Atlantic years, beginning in 1966, that would see her release hits such as “I’ve Never Loved a Man The Way That I Love You,” “Chain of Fools,” and “Think,” and become a superstar.
Her songs also paved the way for activism among the counterculture of the US in the 1960s. On her 1967 hit “Respect,” she wasn’t just singing about reverence for one another during a tumultuous, racially charged time in American history. She was demanding it.
Aretha leaves behind one of the greatest legacies in American music.
Over a career spanning five-decades, she won 18 Grammy Awards and sold over 75 million records. She was the first woman to be inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame, and was the first R&B artist to headline the iconic San Fransisco Fillmore West venue.
She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005, for “helping to shape our Nation’s artistic and cultural heritage.” Former President Barack Obama said of Aretha’s life and legacy, “Nobody embodies more fully the connection between the African-American spiritual, the blues, R&B, rock and roll — the way that hardship and sorrow were transformed into something full of beauty and vitality and hope.”
If you obsess over singers and bands, and are one of those people who make a playlist for every occasion, join CMN’s Music Journalism Course and get real-time experience, intense feedback on your writing, exposure to music industry insiders, and a great place to display build your portfolio. Get all the details on the Music Journalism Course here.