Aretha Louise Franklin March 25, 1942 – August 16, 2018 was an American singer, songwriter, and pianist. Franklin began her career as a child singing gospel at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan where her father C. L. Franklin was minister. At age 18, she embarked on a secular career recording for Columbia Records. However, she achieved only modest success. Franklin found commercial success and acclaim after signing with Atlantic Records in 1966. Hit songs such as “Respect”, “Chain of Fools”, “Think”, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”, “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)”, and “I Say a Little Prayer”, propelled Franklin past her musical peers. By the end of the 1960s, Aretha Franklin had come to be known as “The Queen of Soul”.
She continued to record acclaimed albums such as I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You 1967, Lady Soul 1968, Spirit in the Dark (1970), Young, Gifted and Black 1972, Amazing Grace 1972, and Sparkle 1976 before experiencing problems with her record company. Franklin left Atlantic in 1979 and signed with Arista Records. She appeared in 1980 film The Blues Brothers before releasing the successful albums Jump to It 1982 and Who’s Zoomin’ Who? 1985 for Arista. Franklin received international praise after the 1998 Grammy Awards, where she replaced Luciano Pavarotti in performing the opera aria “Nessun dorma”. Later that year, she scored her final Top 40 song with “A Rose Is Still a Rose. In 2015, she sang at the Kennedy Center Honors for honoree singer/songwriter Carole King.
Franklin recorded 112 charted singles on Billboard, including 77 Hot 100 entries, 17 top-ten pop singles, 100 R&B entries, and 20 number-one R&B singles, becoming the most charted female artist in history. Franklin’s other well-known hits include “Rock Steady”, “Call Me”, “Ain’t No Way”, “Don’t Play That Song (You Lied)”, “Spanish Harlem”, “Day Dreaming”, “Until You Come Back to Me That’s What I’m Gonna Do”, “Something He Can Feel”, “Jump to It”, “Freeway of Love”, “Who’s Zoomin’ Who”, and “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” (a duet with George Michael). She won 18 Grammy Awards, including the first eight awards given for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance from 1968 through to 1975, and she is one of the best-selling musical artists of all time, having sold more than 75 million records worldwide.
Franklin received numerous honors throughout her career, including a 1987 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as the first female performer to be inducted, the National Medal of Arts, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She was inducted to the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005 and to the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2012. Franklin is listed in two all-time lists by Rolling Stone magazine, including the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time and the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. In 2008, she was ranked by Rolling Stone as the No. 1 greatest singer of all time.
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.
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 improvizations. 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.
After being raised in Detroit, Franklin relocated to New York City in the 1960s, where she lived until moving to Los Angeles in the mid-1970s. She eventually settled in Encino, Los Angeles where she lived until 1982. She then returned to the Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan to be close to her ailing father and siblings. Franklin maintained a residence there until her death. Following an incident in 1984, she cited a fear of flying that prevented her from traveling overseas; she performed only in North America afterwards.
Franklin was the mother of four sons. She first became pregnant at the age of 12 and gave birth to her first child, named Clarence after her father, on January 28, 1955. According to the news site Inquisitr, “The father of the child was Donald Burk, a boy she knew from school” On January 22, 1957, then aged 14, Franklin had a second child, named Edward after his father Edward Jordan. Franklin did not like to discuss her early pregnancies with interviewers. Both children took her family name. While Franklin was pursuing her career and “hanging out with friends”, Franklin’s grandmother Rachel and sister Erma took turns raising the children. Franklin would visit them often. Franklin’s third child, Ted White Jr., was born in February 1964 and is known professionally as Teddy Richards. He has provided guitar backing for his mother’s band during live concerts. Her youngest son, Kecalf Cunningham, was born in 1970 and is the child of her road manager Ken Cunningham.
Franklin was married twice. Her first husband was Theodore “Ted” White, whom she married in 1961 at age 19. Franklin had actually seen White the first time at a party held at her house in 1954. After a contentious marriage that involved domestic violence, Franklin separated from White in 1968, divorcing him in 1969. Franklin then married her second husband, actor Glynn Turman, on April 11, 1978 at her father’s church. By marrying Turman, Franklin became stepmother of Turman’s three children from a previous marriage. Franklin and Turman separated in 1982 after Franklin returned to Michigan from California, and they divorced in 1984. At one point, Franklin had plans to marry her longtime companion Willie Wilkerson. Franklin and Wilkerson had had two previous engagements stretching back to 1988. Franklin eventually called off the 2012 engagement.
Franklin’s sisters, Erma and Carolyn, were professional musicians as well and spent years performing background vocals on Franklin’s recordings. Following Franklin’s divorce from Ted White, her brother Cecil became her manager, and maintained that position until his death from lung cancer on December 26, 1989. Sister Carolyn died the previous year in April 1988 from breast cancer, while eldest sister Erma died from throat cancer in September 2002. Franklin’s half-brother Vaughn died two months after Erma in late 2002. Her half-sister, Carol Kelley (née Jennings; born 1940) is C. L. Franklin’s daughter by Mildred Jennings, a then 12-year-old congregant of New Salem Baptist Church in Memphis, where C. L. was pastor.
Franklin was performing at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas, on June 10, 1979, when her father, C. L., was shot twice at point blank range in his Detroit home. After six months at Henry Ford Hospital, still in a state of coma, C.L. was moved back to his home with 24-hour nursing care. Aretha moved back to Detroit in late 1982 to assist with the care of her father, who died at Detroit’s New Light Nursing Home on July 27, 1984.
Some of her music business friends have included Dionne Warwick, Mavis Staples, and Cissy Houston, who began singing with Franklin as members of the Sweet Inspirations. Cissy sang background on Franklin’s hit “Ain’t No Way”. Franklin first met Cissy’s daughter, Whitney, in the early 1970s. She was made Whitney’s honorary aunt, not a godmother as has been occasionally misreported, and Whitney often referred to her as “Auntie Ree”. When Whitney Houston died on February 11, 2012, Franklin said she was surprised by her death. She had initially planned to perform at Houston’s memorial service on February 18 but was unable to attend due to a leg spasm.
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 private 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 August 31 Homegoing Service was the scene of multiple tributes by celebrities, politicians, friends and family members and was streamed by some news agencies such as Fox News, CNN and MSNBC. Among those who paid tribute to Aretha at the Service included Ariana Grande, Bill Clinton, Faith Hill, Fantasia, Ronald Isley, Chaka Khan, Jennifer Hudson, Stevie Wonder, Eric Holder, and Smokey Robinson.