Long live the Queen of Soul. Aretha Franklin may have died, but her voice and legacy will last forever. As the world mourns her passing, get to know about this incredible music icon.
There will never be another Aretha Franklin. The Queen Of Soul passed away on Aug. 16, shortly after reports said she was “gravely ill.” She reportedly passed in her Detroit home, where she was surrounded by her friends and family. She was 76. Sadly, the world would lose a woman who brought presidents to tears, inspired people to stand up for civil rights, and filled the world with, as Barack Obama once wrote, “beauty and vitality and hope.” It’s impossible to sum up a life like Aretha’s but here are some vital facts to know.
1. The queen of Detroit was originally from Tennessee. Aretha Louise Franklin was born on March 25, 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee, to a Baptist preacher father, C.L. Franklin, and gospel singer mother. Before Aretha turned five, her father’s preaching assignments relocated her family to Detroit, where her natural music gifts came into full bloom. She began performing solos as an opening act for her father’s preaching engagements, but Motown was calling. So was RCA, but it was Columbia Records with whom Aretha signed in 1960. A year later, Aretha was released to the world.
2. She’s one of the best-selling musicians of all time. Aretha’s rise to the top was slow, at first. It wasn’t until she signed with Atlantic Records in 1967 that she reached the pinnacle of her success. “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Loved You)” saw her hit No. 1 on the R&B chart and break the Top 10 Billboard Hot 100. She later released “Respect,” which topped both charts and became her signature song. Aretha would release classic tracks like “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman,” “Spanish Harlem,” and “Think.”
Though her commercial popularity would wane in the 1980s, she continued to perform and record. In a career that spanned more than 50 years, Aretha would have 20 No. 1 R&B singles, rack up 18 Grammy Awards, and sell more than 75 million records worldwide. Oh, she was also the first woman to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame.
3. Aretha was a teenage mother. By the time she was 14, Aretha had already given birth to two children: Clarence Franklin, 63, and Edward Franklin, 61. She would have two more sons: Kecalf Cunningham, 48, with Ken Cunningham; and Ted White Jr., 54, the song of her first husband, Ted White. She and Ted were married from 1961-69. Aretha would marry a second time, to Glynn Turman, in 1978. They would divorce in 1984.
4. She performed at three presidential inaugurations and at the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “In those early days [of the Civil Rights Movement,] myself, Mr. Harry Belafonte and a young gospel singer with a terrific voice by the name of Queen Esther Marrow, did concerts with Dr. Martin Luther King,” she told Maclean’s in 2011. “I was a teenage girl then, so naturally I was in awe of Dr. King and listened carefully to every word that he said. At that time, “Respect” became a civil rights anthem.”
Aretha’s father, C.L. Franklin, was one of the organizers behind the Walk To Freedom demonstration in Detroit on June 23, 1963. It was during this civil rights demonstration where Dr. King gave his “I Have A Dream” speech for the first time. Sadly, she would have to sing at Dr. King’s funeral, performing “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.”
“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,” Barack Obama, one of the three presidents whose inaugurations Aretha performed at, once wrote, per The New Yorker. She would also perform for Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
“American history wells up when Aretha sings. That’s why, when she sits down at a piano and sings ‘A Natural Woman,’ she can move me to tears—the same way that Ray Charles’s version of ‘America the Beautiful’ will always be in my view the most patriotic piece of music ever performed—because it captures the fullness of the American experience, the view from the bottom as well as the top, the good and the bad, and the possibility of synthesis, reconciliation, transcendence.”
5. Aretha had retired in 2017. A year before her death, Aretha announced that she would stop touring. “I am retiring this year,” she told WDIV Local 4 in Detroit early in 2017, per Rolling Stone. “I feel very, very enriched and satisfied with respect to where my career came from and where it is now. I’ll be pretty much satisfied, but I’m not going to go anywhere and just sit down and do nothing. That wouldn’t be good either.” Later in the year, she released her 42nd (!) studio album, A Brand New Me, which paired her archival vocal recordings with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Her final performance was in Nov. 2017 at the Elton Johns AIDS Foundation 25th anniversary gala.
Our thoughts are with Aretha’s family and friends at this time.