Aretha Louise Franklin was born in 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee. Her father, C.L. Franklin, was a preacher, while her mother, Barbara, was an accomplished piano player and vocalist. They had 3 other children together and both had children from previous relationships. After re-locating to Detroit, Aretha’s parents separated and her mother moved back to Buffalo, unfortunately passing before Aretha’s 10th birthday.
Aretha began singing solos at the church where her father was the minister. When she was 14, he began managing her, bringing her on the road with his “gospel caravan” tours. She signed her first record deal in 1956 and released “Songs of Faith”. At the age of 16, Franklin went on tour with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
After turning 18, Franklin confided to her father that she aspired to follow Sam Cooke to record pop music. He agreed, and Aretha was signed to Columbia Records in 1960. Aretha recorded a couple albums with moderate success, but was feeling neglected at Columbia. In 1966, she signed to Atlantic Records, where she released her first top 10 single “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)”. A few months later, Atlantic issued her frenetic version of Otis Redding’s “Respect”, which shot to number-one on both the R&B and pop charts and later became her signature song and was later hailed as a civil rights and feminist anthem.
Franklin’s debut Atlantic album, “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You” went gold, and had two more top ten singles with “Baby I Love You” and “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman”. In 1968, she issued the top-selling albums, “Lady Soul” and “Aretha Now”, which included “Chain of Fools”, “Ain’t No Way”, “Think” and “I Say a Little Prayer”. In February 1968, Franklin earned the first two of her Grammys. In June 1968, she appeared on the cover of Time magazine.
Franklin’s success continued into the 1970s, but waned towards the end of the decade. In 1980, after leaving Atlantic Records, Franklin signed with Clive Davis’ Arista Records and gave a command performance at the Royal Albert Hall in front of Queen Elizabeth. Franklin also made an acclaimed guest role as a waitress in the comedy musical, The Blues Brothers. In 1985, “Who’s Zoomin’ Who?”, became her first album to be certified platinum thanks to hits like, “Freeway of Love”. The following year’s album nearly matched this success with the hit singles like “I Knew You Were Waiting for Me”, her international number-one duet with George Michael.
Franklin performed The Star Spangled Banner with Aaron Neville and Dr. John for Super Bowl XL 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.
Franklin released the album A Brand New Me in November 2017 with The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, which uses archived recordings from her past. It peaked at #5 on the Billboard Top Classical Albums chart.
On August 13, 2018, Franklin was reported to be gravely ill at her home near Detroit. She was reported to be under hospice care and surrounded by friends and family. Franklin died at home on August 16, 2018, aged 76. The cause was reported to be advanced pancreatic cancer.