Aretha Franklin

Click here if you want to see this biography in Spanish translation.

Biography of Aretha Franklin, nicknamed “Soul Lady” and “Queen of Soul“, is one of the greatest exponents of this musical genre and one of the greatest gospel players of all time.

Importance of Aretha Franklin in the song

Already in the mid-1960s she established herself as a female Soul star.

Aretha Franklin used her fame to support movements for racial rights and women’s liberation in the United States. From a very young age she helped spread the pride of African American culture.

Hall of Fame
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Credit: WikRock & Roll Hall of Fame. Credit: Wikipediaipedia

In 1987, Aretha became the first woman to be inducted into the “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame”.

This museum is located in Cleveland (United States). It is dedicated to the memory and memory of the most famous and influential artists in the music industry through rock.

Aretha Franklin’s songs were as popular in the United States as Nina Simone’s were previously; and in France those of Edith Piaf; or in Latin America those of the chilean Violeta Parra and the argentine Mercedes Sosa.

She has been included in the “100 Great Singers” section of Rolling Stone magazine, in which Aretha Franklin is stated to be among the one hundred best singers in history.

In addition, the same publication lists it as the ninth best artist, from the “100 Great Artists” list.

Childhood and family life of Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin, was born in Memphis, Tennessee (USA), on March 25, 1942.

Her father, the preacher Clarence Franklin, took care of her education after her mother (Barbara Siggers) left the family.

Aretha Franklin’s birthplace. Credit: Wikipedia

During religious services, Clarence Franklin was soon able to appreciate Aretha’s great talent.

But, the girl rejected the piano lessons that her father offered her, and preferred to learn by herself; came to fully master this instrument.

It so happened that three true geniuses of the gospel: Clara Ward, James Cleveland and Mahalia Jackson, were close to their family.

Aretha grew up surrounded by them, admiring and imitating them.

In 1950, the preacher and her three daughters had moved to Detroit.

Aretha and her sisters Carolyn and Erma sang at the Detroit Baptist Church, founded and run by her father, who was famous for his charisma as a pastor and for his engaging sermons.

In the early 1960s, Clarence Franklin made recordings as a gospel soloist, accompanied by other preachers. He was one of the main confidants of the leader Martin Luther King.

Luther King
Martin Luther King at a Civil Rights March in Washington. Credit: U.S. National Archives

Aretha spent her entire childhood in this gospel atmosphere and surrounded by jazz voices, such as Dinah Washington and Ella Fitzgerald.

Beginnings of her musical career

At just 14 years old she made her first recording for a music label. In this recording, gospel songs could be heard, with piano accompaniment played by herself.

In 1960, she traveled to New York to take vocal technique and dance classes.

She started recording her songs, to send them to the record companies. which began to consider her as a young prodigy.

Columbia Records, under the direction of John Hammond, signed a contract with Aretha, as a Soul artist.

Aretha Franklin famous jazz singer

Before long, the company began including her in its jazz catalog.

In fact, in 1964, taking advantage of Aretha’s passion for jazz, Columbia released Aretha’s 7th album with the title “Unforgettable: A Tribute to Dinah Washington“.

It is a complete jazz album, in which Aretha performs great songs by Dinah Washington.

Dinah Washington
Dinah Washington known as “The Queen of Blue” in 1952. Credit: Wikipedia, Antor Mercury Records

Aretha felt like a Soul artist and did not agree that Columbia advertised her as a “jazz lady”. Which, certainly she was, because she had great musical versatility.

Many of her most beautiful melodies are from this period, such as “Sweet bitter love“, “Skylark”, “Try a little Tenderness” and many others.

In addition, she obtained smaller successes; among which stand out “Operation heartbreak”, “Rock-a-bye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody”, “Lee Cross”, “Soulville”, “Songs of faith“. The latter, with a strong gospel accent.

Singer Aretha Franklin and soul

Aretha Franklin left Columbia Records and signed with Atlantic Records.

Producer Jerry Wexler understood the singer’s feelings and set out to extract all the soul from within.

Aretha Franklin
Disco I never loved a man the way I love you. Credit: Brett Jordan

The first single she recorded in New York for Atlantic Records, in February 1967, was “I never loved a man the way I love you“.

For this she had the accompaniment of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, some white boys from Alabama.

In the single, the song “Respect”, by the author Otis Redding, stands out, with which Aretha definitively consecrated herself.

To the original version of Otis Redding was added a sax solo and the chord changes of the song “When something is wrong with my baby“, by Sam & Dave.

Otis Redding
Otis Redding, the King of Soul, in 1967. Credit: Wikimedia, Stax Records.

In March 1967 the album was re-released, adding some songs, such as the version of the Ray Charles song “Drown in my own tears” and some songs by Sam Cooke.

In addition, Aretha contributed to this album with four songs composed by her: “Don’t Let Me Lose This Dream”, “Baby, Baby, Baby”, “Save Me” and “Dr. Feelgood, Love Is a Serious Business”.

Aretha Franklin becomes number one in sales

Also in 1967, she won two Grammy Awards. And the Atlantic label released her tenth album, which bears the title “Aretha arrives“. This album reached number one in sales and popularity.

On January 22, 1968, Atlantic Records released “Lady Soul“, Aretha’s eleventh album.

Again the reception was a resounding success and with a large number of sales. The disc contained hits of soul music like “Chain of fools”, “A natural woman” or “Ain’t no way”.

There were also collaborations by Eric Clapton, songs by Ray Charles “Come back baby”, James Brown and Curtis Mayfield, “People get ready”.

In the album they collaborated in the choirs: Dionne Warwick, her younger sister Dee Dee Warwick and the cousin of both, Cissy Houston (mother of Whitney Houston).

Six months later, the twelfth album was released, titled “Aretha now“, which continued the chain of hits with “Think” and Burt Bacharach’s popular song “I say a little prayer“, and which Dionne Warwick had previously performed.

Aretha opened the year 1969 with the thirteenth album “Soul’69” with blues and jazz, which was also a resounding success.

She closed the decade, with the success of the singles “River’s invitation” and “Bring it on home to me”.

Aretha Franklin in the 1970s

In the early 1970s, her successes continued unabated; She was already a fully established artist within the international music scene, and began to make versions of rock, pop and soul themes.

On January 15, 1970, the album “This Girl’s in Love With You” was released, an album laden with versions: “Share Your Love With Me” by Bobby Blue Band; the already super versioned “Son of a Preacher Man“; the Beatles’ hits “Let it be” and “Eleanor Rigby”; the song performed by Rotary Connection, The Staple Singers; “The weight”, “Dark end of the street“, by James Carr.

But in this album one of the biggest hits was “Call me“, written by Aretha Franklin herself.

In August 1970, Atlantic Records, released Aretha Franklin’s 19th album, titled “Spirit in the dark“.

She made versions of B.B. King (one of the most influential blues musicians of all time), Jimmy Reed, and Dr. John (pianist, singer, and songwriter).

In this album she had a luxurious instrumentation by The Muscle Shoals, The Dixie Flyers and guitarist Duane Allman.

The song written by Aretha Franklin gave the album her name.

Duane Allman
Guitarist Duane Allman. Credit: Wikimedia, Ed Berman

In 1971, the recording of a live performance was released: “Aretha Live at Fillmore West“, where she sang her greatest hits, as well as Stephen Stills’ covers of “Love the One You’re With“; and Bread (the rock and pop band founded in 1968), “Make It With You“.

On this album appear saxophonist King Curtis, and a cover of “Spirit in the dark” with Aretha Franklin  opposite Ray Charles.

After this, Aretha Franklin decided to adapt to the musical tastes of the beginning of that decade.

Her music began to include new rhythms, with a sound that anticipated “disco” music.

Following this idea, on January 24, 1972, Atlantic Records released Aretha’s 20th album: “Young, gifted and black“, which was Top 10 as a Gold record.

The album title was taken from a song by Nina Simone (“To be Young, Gifted and Black“).

Three of the biggest hits on this album are written by Aretha: “Day dreaming”, “Rock steady” and “All the king’s horses”.

She included versions again, such as “The long and winding road” by The Beatles and “I’ve been loving you too long” by Otis Redding.

The album won the 1972 Grammy Award for Best Female Performance.

A major American TV network mentioned it as one of the best albums of all time.

In 1972, the first fully gospel album of her career arrived, recorded live with The Southern California Community Choir and James Cleveland.

Her gospel versions of “You’ve got a friend“, “Wholy Holy” by Marvin Gaye, “How I got Over” by Clara Ward or the traditional “Precious memories” are famous from this album.

In 1973, “Hey Now Hey” (The Other Side of the Sky), Aretha’s last album, arrived before she almost succumbed to disco music.

Apart from hits like “Angel” (composed by Carolyn Franklin), “Somewhere” (by composer and pianist Leonard Bernstein) or “Master of Eyes (The Deepness of Your Eyes)” (written by Aretha and Bernice Hart).

One of the biggest impacts that the album produced was for its original and strange cover.

Carolyn Franklin
Carolyn Franklin, sister of Aretha Franklin, in 1970. Credit: Wikipedia

In 1974, the album “Let Me in Your Life” appeared with a new image of Aretha, on the cover.

She was seen wrapped in a fur coat, like a diva. The music continued to sound like soul, but with many characteristics of disco music.

Two hits came out of this album: “Until You Come Back to Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do)“, previously performed by Stevie Wonder; and “I’m in love” written by Bobby Womack and made successful in 1968 by Wilson Pickett.

That same year 1974, she released the album “With Everything I Feel in Me“. In all the songs, she plays the piano.

Two of the songs were composed by Aretha and her sister Carolyn: “Without love” and the song that gives the album its title.

In 1976 Aretha crossed paths with the great singer, songwriter, and guitarist Curtis Mayfield (1942-1999).

Together they created the soundtrack for the movie “Sparkle.” The single “Sparkle” was a total success; “Giving Him Something He Can Feel” became a hymn; and “Jump to it” broke on the dance floors.

Part of the success of the album was due to the lyrics created by Mayfield. In addition, it was an excellent production and the choirs of the four Kitty Haywood Singers, could not leave anyone indifferent.

Curtis Mayfield
Curtis Mayfield, singer, songwriter, and guitarist. Credit: Wikipedia

In the last years of this decade, the three albums that were released only had modest successes, except for the “I needed baby” that she sang again together with Curtis Mayfield.

Actually, the record company Atlantis Record already put little enthusiasm in Aretha’s artistic career.

This disinterest was the reason that she left the company. Immediately, she signed with the record label Arista.

Aretha Franklin in the 1980s

On October 25, 1980, the record label Arista released the album “Aretha“, produced by Clive Davis and Chuck Jackson.

She was the first important artist to sign Arista, which is why the house carried out a very considerable promotion.

The album contains versions of previous hits, but with sounds and rhythms totally in line with those that were in vogue at the time; Previous versions of songs include “What a Fool Believes” and “I Can’t Turn You Loose” by Otis Redding.

The biggest hit from the album was the song “United together” by Aretha Franklin.

In 1981, “Love All the Hurt Away” arrived, making its way onto the market with the album’s title single: A duet between Aretha Franklin  and George Benson.

With this album, Aretha returned to the top of the music scene with a new sound that mixed soul, rock, urban and quiet storm.

From this album, two more songs entered the sales charts, apart from the first single: “It’s my turn” and “Hold on! I’m coming!”.

Aretha was one of the singers who influenced Mercedes Sosa to dare to introduce soul into her repertoire.

George Benson
George Benson, legendary vocalist, songwriter, and guitarist. Credit: Wikipedia

But in 1982, with the release of their 31st album, entitled “Jump to it“, the great success came again, after a long time of Aretha in the shade.

The song “Jump to it” managed to be # 1 in the popularity ranking for 17 weeks.

Luther Vandross, the Isley Brothers, Smokey Robinson and Aretha herself worked on the composition of this album; in addition, all of them under the production of Clive Davis.

Clive Davis
Clive Davis, music producer and founder of the Arista Records Company. Credit: Wikipedia

Due to the success of the previous album on “Get it right” (1983) Luther Vandross created most of the material for the album. “Every girl” and “Get it right“, both songs written by Vandross enjoyed a wide audience, as did, to a lesser extent, The Temptations’ version of the song “I Wish It Would Rain“.

In 1984, the Chess Record label, with which Aretha had begun working, released a live recorded album with Aretha together with her father, the Reverend Clarence Franklin, during a gospel session in the church. It was titled “Never Grow Old“.

In 1985, under the label of the record label Arista, Aretha returned to succeed with a much more pop album, “Who’s Zoomin ‘Who?“.

This album has been Aretha’s most honored album in the company. The credits include Mexican guitarist Carlos Santana, saxophonist Clarence Clemens, and vocalist Peter Wolf.

It contains some of the most popular hits of the decade, such as “Sisters are doin ‘it for themselves” alongside Eurythmics.

Three other singles had a great impact on the public: “Freeway of love”, “Another night” and “Who’s zommin ‘who?“. For the song “Freeway of love“, Aretha won two Grammy.

In 1986 the third album titled “Aretha” was released. The other two were in 1961 and 1980).

This album was produced by Arista Records and has a much more rock-like feel, even on the album cover, which was the last work by the famous Andy Warhol shortly before his early death.

This album garnered two great hits: the song “Jumpin ‘Jack Flash” produced by Keith Richards and belonging to the soundtrack of the same name; and the duo with George Michael “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)”. Other songs with much less impact were “Jimmy Lee” and the duo with Larry Graham “If You Need My Love Tonight“.

In 1987, fifteen years after the recording of “Amazing Grace” (1972), she released “One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism“, the second entirely gospel album of her career.

Her sisters Erma Franklin and Carolyn Franklin, Mavis Staples, her father the Rev. C.L.. Franklin, Joe Ligon, Jesse Jackson and Jasper Williams.

Rev. Franklin
The Rev. C.L. Franklin, father of Aretha Franklin. Credit: Wikipedia

In 1989, after two years off, she released “Through the storm”, an album that included duets with great stars of the moment: “Through the storm” with Elton John, “It isn’t, it wasn’t, it ain’t never gonna be“with Whitney Houston,”Give me your love “with James Brown and “If ever a love there was”in the company of The Four Tops and Kenny G.

Last years in the life of Aretha Franklin

Aretha’s work and presence on stage began to be less constant, and her albums were not as frequent as before. She was already 67 years old, almost 50 of whom were fully dedicated to intense work, very fruitful but exhausting.

In 1991 she released “What you see is what you sweat“, which released three singles with some impact, but much less. The album also includes the version of “I dreamed a dream” that she would sing to Bill Clinton. Although her presence on stage never ceased, she spent almost 7 years without recording new albums.

In 1993 and 1997 she sang at the opening ceremonies of the Bill Clinton government. In 1995 she received a Grammy for her entire career. Also at that time she recorded a duet with Frank Sinatra, “What Now My Love“.

In 1998, New York’s cable and satellite TV network TV1 held its first annual concert called TV1 Divas. On this occasion Aretha proved that she was one of the stars of 20th century music.

The divas presented by TV1 were five. All of them had broken the sales charts in the last 10 years: Mariah Carey, Céline Dion, Shania Twain, Gloria Estefan and Aretha Franklin the Queen of Soul. It was a memorable gala and the public surrendered at Aretha’s feet.

In the following years, she dedicated herself to the foundation and direction of her own record company, in order to help the professional promotion of two of her four children, Kecalf and Teddy, who are active characters in the world of music.

Aretha moved permanently to Detroit and her songs were mainly framed within contemporary Rock and Blue (R&B) and new soul.

In 2008, she was chosen Musical Character of the Year, on the 50th Anniversary of the Grammy Awards, with which she won her 20th award, thanks to the duet with Mary J. Blige: “You never gonna change my faith“.

Also during 2008 she recorded the promotional song for a private company entitled “Stand up yourself“.

Aretha at the White House

Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin at the White House Credit: Wikipedia.

On Tuesday, January 20, 2009, she appeared at the assumption of command of the US President, Barack Obama, and sang “My Country This of Thee“.

This was the life of this extraordinary woman, constantly accompanied by her father, always proud of her African-American culture, generously helping the best of herself.

On Thursday, August 16, 2018, the sad news of the death of this great singer came to the world.

She was 76 years old and died of pancreatic cancer diagnosed in 2010. Happily, she was accompanied by her entire family and at her Detroit home.

The music world immediately turned to show their admiration for the artist’s legacy.

Former President Barack Obama, a great admirer of the star, and his wife Michelle, wrote that “in her voice, we could feel our history, all of it and in every shadow: our power and our pain, our darkness and our light, our search for redemption and our respect, hard earned.”

Click here if you want to see this biography in Spanish translation.

Please rate this biography using the stars: