Aretha Franklin Biography
Aretha Louise Franklin (born March 25, 1942) is an American gospel, soul and R&B singer born in Memphis, Tennessee, but raised in Detroit, Michigan. She has been dubbed for years "The Queen Of Soul", but many also call her "Lady Soul," as well as the more affectionate "Sister Re". She is renowned for her soul and R&B recordings but is also adept at jazz, rock, blues, pop, gospel, and even opera. She is generally regarded as one of the top vocalists ever by such industry publications/media outlets as Rolling Stone and VH1, due to her ability to inject whatever she may be singing about with passion, soul and sheer conviction. She is the second most honored female singer in Grammy history after Alison Krauss. Ms. Franklin has won eighteen competitive Grammys (including an unprecedented eleven for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, eight of them consecutive), and the state of Michigan has declared her voice to be a wonder.
Franklin has had two number one hit songs on the Billboard Hot 100, "Respect" in the 1960s and her 1980s duet with George Michael, "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)", and many of her singles have hit Top 20, Top 10, and Top 5 positions.
Franklin was born in Memphis, the daughter of the Reverend CL Franklin - a noted figure in the black community in the 50s and 60s and one of the first ministers to host his own nationally broadcast radio show. The family lived in Buffalo, New York, for a short time before moving to Detroit, Michigan, when she was seven. Aretha's mother, Barbara (a gospel singer), left the family when Aretha was only six years old and later died.
As a child, Franklin and her sisters, Carolyn and Erma, sang at her father's Detroit-area church and made her first recordings at the age of 14. One of their two brothers, Cecil, became a minister like their father, but was also Aretha's manager for a time. Their other brother, Vaughn, became a career Air Force pilot.
Aretha signed with Columbia Records after being discovered by legendary A&R man John Hammond. In the early 1960s, Franklin had a few popular songs, most notably "Rock-a-bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody". Though Columbia wanted to cultivate her as a jazz singer, the results never gave full rein to Franklin's talents. Her greatest and most innovative work was yet to come.
Franklin had her first two sons around this time. Clarence, Jr. was born when she was 15, and Edward "Eddie" was born when she was 16. She dropped out of high school soon after the birth of her second son. Her grandmother took in her sons to help Aretha move on in her career.
After moving to Atlantic Records in 1967, Franklin teamed up with producers Jerry Wexler and Arif Mardin, resulting in some of the most influential R&B recordings of the 1960s, including "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)", a much more soulful and impassioned song than most of her earlier work. By the late 1960s, Franklin had earned the nickname "The Queen of Soul", having become an internationally famous artist and a symbol of pride for the Black community. Franklin said herself of this period, "When I went to Atlantic, they just sat me down at the piano and the hits started coming."
She released numerous Top Ten hits in the late 1960s and early 1970s, dabbling in gospel music, blues music, pop music, psychedelic music and rock and roll, including notable covers of songs by The Beatles ("Eleanor Rigby"), The Band ("The Weight"), Simon & Garfunkel ("Bridge Over Troubled Water"), Sam Cooke and The Drifters. Live at Fillmore West and Amazing Grace were two of her most influential full-length releases. Her band for the former included musicians King Curtis, Bernard Purdie and Billy Preston; the latter was a double LP of live gospel music recorded in a Los Angeles Baptist church. Surprisingly she never made it to number one in the UK pop charts — the best result being a number four with her version of Burt Bacharach's "I Say a Little Prayer" in 1968.
Among her most successful hit singles from this era were "Chain of Fools", "You Make Me Feel (Like a Natural Woman)", "Think", "Baby, I Love You", "The House That Jack Built", and "Respect", a cover of an Otis Redding single which became her signature song. After the Best Female R&B Vocal Performance category was added to the Grammy Awards in 1968, she won successively the first eight ever awarded trophies in the category (from 1968-1975) and added three more to her collection in the 1980s.
Franklin married Ted White in 1962, and he became her manager during her years with Columbia Records. They had one son, Theodore "Teddy" White, Jr. (b. 1969). The marriage ended in 1969, and she has always refused to answer questions about it. A Time Magazine cover story in 1968 led to a lawsuit from Ted White over allegations that he had roughed her up in public. The affair made her guard her private life even more, and she gave no interviews for several years after that.
In the early 1970s, her music mellowed slightly, though losing nothing of its power, and she continued the hugely successful relationship with Wexler and Mardin while beginning to take a greater role in producing her work. A partnership with Quincy Jones led to a disappointing album in 1973, Hey Now Hey (The Other Side of the Sky). But it still produced a standout track "Angel", written by her sister Carolyn, which became a soul classic.
She returned to working with Wexler, but their last collaboration, the Atlantic LP You, was released in 1975.
Franklin released several LPs after You including Sparkle in 1976 which yielded a #1 R&B single, "(Giving Him) Something He Can Feel", Sweet Passion, Almighty Fire (also produced by Curtis Mayfield) and La Diva, her last Atlantic LP.
Wexler had now left Atlantic, and the partnership was over. Despite working with artists of the stature of Curtis Mayfield, popularity and critical success waned during the mid to late 1970s and the 1980s, though she scored several hits, often with partners (such as Luther Vandross). Her most notable 1980s hit was the dance song "Freeway of Love", which charted in 1985. Most critics dismiss her post-Atlantic material as far inferior to the legendary recordings of the mid to late sixties.
Franklin stepped in at the last minute to sing the standard aria "Nessun Dorma" (from Puccini's Turandot) at the 1998 Grammy telecast when Luciano Pavarotti took ill . Also, she won her 18th Grammy for her song "Wonderful" in 2004. (That number including her lifetime achievement grammy.)
She lives today in Detroit when not on tour. Because of her hometown roots, she joined Aaron Neville and Dr. John in performing the national anthem prior to Super Bowl XL on February 5, 2006, along with a 150-voice choir to conclude a pre-game tribute to nine-time championship game host city New Orleans, recovering and rebuilding after the plight of Hurricane Katrina.
For a detailed account of Aretha Franklin releases, see the Aretha Franklin discography.