Aretha Franklin (1942-2018) The Lady of Soul, Feminist, Civil Rights Activist & Symbol of Black Equality

“I didn’t think my songs would become anthems for women. But I’m delighted. Women probably immediately feel compassion and relate to the lyrics. We can all learn a little something from each other, so whatever people can take and be inspired by where my music is concerned is great,” – Aretha Franklin on Respect and Natural Women for Time in 2017.



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The “Voice of black America” Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin sadly died yesterday in her Detroit home surrounded by friends and family. The cause of death being reported pancreatic cancer.

The 76 year old ‘lady soul’ was arguably the greatest singer in living memory and will go down in history as courageous figure of social change. She set the bar for passionate soul music in the late 60’s and early 70’s with her glorious roof-lifting performances of some of her hit tracks ‘respect’, ‘say a little prayer’, ‘natural women’ and ‘Spanish Harlem’. She became and icon for the civil rights movement and feminism; becoming the voice for the oppressed during this period of struggle. Her energetic calls for understanding and respect bought attention to the movement. With over one hundred US Billboard Chart hits she became a symbol of aspiration and hope for many.

In 2015 Barack Obama said that when Aretha sings “American history wells up……”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.”

Aretha was born to a preacher father and singer pianist mother on 25 March 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee. She was christened Aretha Louise Franklin. Her love of music began early on in her life. At age 10 she started singing in church sand also learned to play piano by ear.

In her younger years her family relocated to various locations and eventually her parents separated with her mother also dying at a young age. Her father was a talented musician often called “the man with the million-dollar voice” and would make substantial amount of money performing at various churches where he received visits from the likes, of Martin Luther King Jr, Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson. He became Aretha’s manager when she was 14 and was also the father of her first child which she gave birth to at tender age of 12. She named the child after her father Clarence. Clarence Franklin Senior helped to get Aretha signed to JVB records and released debut album ‘Songs of Faith’ in 1956. At age 18 she was highly sought after by various record labels but in 1960 settled with Columbia in 1960.

“I guess most people call it soul. This is something I got from growing up in my father’s [The Reverend C. L. Franklin] church, singing with him and hearing his sermons every Sunday. You hear him preach just one sermon and you’ll know that he’s a past master of soul,” – Aretha on her fathers influence on her music Ebony 1964

Whilst at Columbia Franklin had a string of US chart topping hits with a cover of ‘Rock-A-Bye your baby with a dixie melody’ which hit the billboard top 40 in 1961. In early 1967 she released her first big hit ‘I never loved a man (the way that I love you)’ and ‘Respect’, with ‘Respect’ becoming her first number one in the US and the anthem of the civil rights movements and feminists. The magical working relationship with producer Jerry Wexler produced her first string of albums– ‘I never loved a man the way I love you’, ‘Lady soul’ and ‘Aretha now’ which produced legendary hits, ‘Think’ (‘You make me feel’), ‘A natural women’ and ‘Chain of Fools’. Her impact at the time was powerful and she appeared on the cover of Time magazine and Martin Luther King Jr gave her a very own day of honor.

“It’s the rough side of the mountain that’s the easiest to climb; the smooth side doesn’t have anything for you to hang on to,” – Aretha Franklin for  Ebony in 1964

Franklins career continued to grow and in the early 1970’s she released ‘Amazing Grace’ a gospel album that produced sold over 2 million copies. She went on to head line the San Francisco’s Filmore West venue- the first R&B singer to ever do so.  In the late 70’s Arethas career started to decline and so in 1980 she moved to Arista and produced popular hits such  as ‘Who’s Zoomin’ Who?’ and ‘Freeway of Love’. Collaborating with the Eurythmics on ‘Sisters are ‘doing it for themselves’ and George Michael on ‘I knew you were waiting for me’. Aretha stayed with Arist for over 20 years, establishing herself as the grand dame of soul music. In 2004 she left the label but continued to make appearances at the Superbowl in 2006; at the inauguration of President obama’s inauguration and at an honor ceremony for held at the Kennedy Centre for Carole King.

“We didn’t have music videos. You weren’t an overnight sensation. You had to work at it and learn your craft; how to take care of your voice, how to pace your concerts, all that trial and error, I paid my dues, I certainly did” – Aretha Franklin told Elle Magazine

The love life of Aretha Franklin was often turbulent, and she was married twice. Firstly to Theodore White in 1969 at age 19. She later got divorced on grounds of domestic violence. Glynn Turman would be her second husband for 6 years and in 2012 she called off her engagement to Willie Wilkerson.

“Falling out of love is like losing weight,” she said toin 2011. “It’s a lot easier putting it on than taking it off.” – Aretha Franklin speaks on Love to  The Independent  in 2011

It was known that Franklin battelled with addiction to cigarettes and alcohol -health problems relating to an undisclosed tumor saw her cancel shows in 2012 so she could have surgery. Many of her shows were often cancelled due to health reason and at a show in Detroit in 2017 she asked her fans “to keep me in your prayers”.

“As women, we do have it. We have the power. We are very resourceful. Women absolutely deserve respect. I think women and children and older people are the three least-respected groups in our society.”– Aretha for  Elle 2016


With over 20 top R&B Hits, 75 Million records sold worldwide, 18 Grammy Awards and the first female ever to get a place on the Rock and Roll  Walk of Fame; Aretha Franklin will forever be known as one of the greatest musical legends of all time for her incredible achievements both in and out of the recording studio.

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