The world lost a true musical icon with the passing of Miss Aretha Franklin on August 16, 2018. She was without a doubt the undisputed Queen of Soul. Her emotional singing about faith, pain and joy won her tons of fans and rightful praise with a career that lasted over 6 decades.
Aretha Louise Franklin was born March 25, 1942 in Memphis Tennessee. Her father was a minister so Aretha was surrounded by Gospel music at a very early age. By the time Aretha was 5 years old her family relocated to Detroit, Michigan where she started singing in the New Bethel Baptist Church
Aretha taught herself to play piano by ear and soon became entranced with artists like the great Sam Cooke. At the age of 18 she recorded a demo that caught the ears of Columbia Records and her first single “Today I Sing The Blues” was released in September of 1960. Songs like “Won’t Be Long” and “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody” carried Aretha through the early sixties and Columbia issued great albums such as The electrifying Aretha Franklin and The tender, the moving, the Swinging Aretha Franklin.
In the mid-1960’s Franklin headed in more of a Pop Direction and had two Big R&B hits with “One Step Ahead” and “Cry Like A Baby.” In 1966 Aretha’s contract with Columbia Records expired and she signed with the Atlantic label. Her Atlantic years were when Aretha truly came alive! Recording at Fame studios in Muscle Shoals Alabama with the legendary Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section a spark was ignited and songs such as “Do Right Woman – Do Right Man” hit strong with the public. Her debut album on Atlantic I never loved a man (the way I love you) had the hits “Baby, I love you” and “(You make me feel like) A natural Woman.”
Many times when an artist covers a song it becomes theirs, taking on a new life all its own. Many examples exist of this type of thing. Jimi Hendrix more or less owns “All Along The Watchtower” even though it was written by Bob Dylan. Otis Redding had a minor hit with his song “Respect.” Aretha Franklin took that song and turned it into a tour de force for women and women’s rights. Otis wrote “Respect” but if you stopped anyone on the street and ask them what R-E-S-P-E-C-T makes them think of and they’re sure to say “Aretha Franklin!” Otis himself announced this when he played the song at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival saying “This next song is a song that a girl took away from me. A good friend of mine, this girl, she just took the song, but I’m still going to do it anyway.”
Aretha’s Atlantic years saw powerhouse releases working closely with the great Jerry Wexler. Albums like Lady Soul and Aretha now tore up the charts with massive hits like “I Say A Little Prayer” and “Chain of Fools.” 1968 saw Aretha awarded her first Grammy for best Female R&B vocal performance. By this time Aretha was considered unstoppable and a major influence on performers everywhere, most notably Females. Her influence carried her well into the 70’s and in 1971 she became the first Soul / R&B performer to play at Bill Graham’s legendary Fillmore West Auditorium. She released a live album entitled Aretha live at Fillmore West.
In the 1980’s Aretha signed with Arista records ran by Clive Davis. She could be seen in movie roles as well, most notably her performance and great singing matchups in “The Blues Brothers” with Matt Guitar Murphy. Just when everyone thought Aretha had done it all and was maybe resting on her laurels 1985 saw her release Who’s Zoomin’ Who. That release sold over a million copies early in its release and included the smash hit “Freeway of Love” which exposed her to a new younger audience.
Many Male artist’s names come to mind when fighting for the term “The King of Soul.” This author grants that title to Otis Redding. But other contenders for the name would be Sam Cooke and James Brown. When it comes to the “Queen of Soul” however, most people have no one else to name that would rival Aretha Franklin. Her Legacy is indisputable. in 1979 she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and became the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. She received lifetime achievement awards from the Grammy’s and the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. In 2005 she was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She has been inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and she has honorary Degrees from Harvard University, Yale, Brown, Berklee College of Music, the New England Conservatory of Music and the University of Michigan. Franklin eventually recorded a total of 112 charted singles on Billboard, 17 top ten Pop singles, 100 R&B entries , and 20 number-one R&B singles, becoming the most charted Female artist in the chart’s history. She won 18 Grammy Awards total.
On August 16, 2018 the world lost The Queen of Soul and a huge void was left in the music world. Make no mistake, the Queen of Soul’s Legacy will never die. Whenever anyone goes to sing with everything they’ve got, Aretha Franklin will be there. Whenever a female singer is getting started and learning what the term “singing with some Soul” means, they are guaranteed to study the work of Miss Franklin. There will never be another one like her and we should all be honored to have witnessed her during our lifetimes. Rest In Peace Aretha Franklin, March 25, 1942 – August 16, 2018. Thank you for the Music.
By Todd Beebe, August 20, 2018