“Music does a lot of things for a lot of people. It’s transporting…it’s uplifting, it’s encouraging, it’s strengthening,” Aretha Franklin said during a 2014 CBC News interview. For anyone who has listened to the Queen of Soul’s music, this is definitely the case. Her voice is so rich and moving that it has the ability to enrapture and stir up emotion, and frankly, there are not that many voices that can compare.
Born in Memphis and raised in Detroit, gospel music was a major part of Aretha’s blood. Her father, the Reverend C.L. Franklin, was the pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church — a 4,500-member in Detroit — and a nationally known gospel singer himself. Aretha and her sisters sang regularly at the church, and at only 14 years old, her vocals were featured on Spirituals, an album recorded at New Bethel Baptist. She spent her teenage years traveling across the country with her father performing at gospel shows and services.
In 1960, Aretha moved to New York, crossed over into the R&B realm and was signed to Columbia Records by John Hammond, the label’s producer and talent scout, after he heard a demo she cut in New York. While at Columbia, Aretha had a handful of R&B hits including Today I Sing the Blues and Runnin’ Out of Fools, as well as the pop smash Rock-a-Bye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody. But those songs and her tenure at the record label did not show her full, dynamic potential.
It was not until she signed with Atlantic Records in 1966 that she began to enjoy the recognition and success she deserved. She released hit after hit, from I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love You), to the pivotal classic Respect, to Chain of Fools, and Since You’ve Been Gone (Sweet, Sweet Baby), to Think, and several other singles including that solidified her as a soul superstar and allowed her to enjoy a comfortable multi-year reign at the top of the charts.
Deejay and blues pioneer Pervis Spann crowned Aretha the Queen of Soul – literally — in 1968 when he placed a crown on her head during a performance at Chicago’s Regal Theater. The undisputed title has remained with her ever since, nearly 50 years later.
Aretha continued to release hits throughout the 70s on Atlantic until she left the label in 1979, after 19 albums. In 1980, she signed with Clive Davis’ Arista Records where she not only released her signature soul music, but dance pop songs and gospel tracks as well. She climbed the charts again with Jump to It and Get It Right (both produced by Luther Vandross), followed by two hits Freeway of Love and Who’s Zoomin’ Who, and a Top 20 duet with the Eurythmics, Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves.
Her 1986 album Aretha, included the track Jimmy Lee, and a version of Jumpin’ Jack Flash, produced by and featuring Keith Richards, as well as her Grammy-winning, Number One duet with George Michael, I Knew You Were Waiting (for Me) in 1987.
That same year, Aretha became the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She also went back to Detroit to record the critically acclaimed gospel album One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism at New Bethel Baptist Church, the place where it all began for Aretha.
The ‘90s included one Top 20 hit for the Queen of Soul, Willing to Forgive, in 1994, as well as the release of her 49th album A Rose Is Still a Rose, in 1998, which went gold and featured collaborations with Lauryn Hill, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, and Jermaine Dupri.
Aretha released two final albums with Arista, So Damn Happy in 2003, which featured the Grammy-winning song Wonderful, and Jewels in the Crown: All-Star Duets with the Queen in 2004 before leaving the label shortly thereafter.
As recent as 2011, she released Aretha: A Woman Falling Out of Love on her own label, Aretha’s Records. And in 2014, she released Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics, on which she tackled, covers of Etta James, Alicia Keys, Adele and The Supremes.
During her incredibly illustrious and robust career, Aretha has managed to release 43 Top 40 singles, earn 18 Grammy Awards, and sing at the inaugurations of two U.S. presidents, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. She is an incomparable singer whose voice has impassioned many and who will forever be The Queen of Soul.
Happy birthday to the Queen.
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