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Aretha Franklin: America’s Soul

WWSU remebers the Queen of Soul

This week, we mourn the loss of the ‘Queen of Soul’ and R&B pioneer, Aretha Franklin. Franklin passed away Thursday morning, August 16th at the age of 76. Franklin was surrounded by family and friends in her Detroit home, her publicist announced. The “Rock Steady” singer had been battling pancreatic cancer off & on since 2010. Aretha Franklin is best known for her contributions to the R&B/Soul genre during the 60s-70s and became the first woman to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Franklin was also known for her contributions as a civil rights activists. Rolling Stone ranked Aretha Franklin #1 out of 100 on their Greatest Singers of All Time list.

Aretha Franklin

Using God’s Gift

Aretha Franklin began her singing career as a teenager singing gospel hymns at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit Michigan where her father ministered.  Franklin's father would start managing her and bringing Franklin on the road with him on “gospel caravan” tours where she’d sing for other churches. Aretha signed her first recording deal with JVB Records and released her first album, “Songs of Faith” in 1956. At the transitional age of 16, she toured with Dr. Martin Luther King and sang for him as he spoke in different cities.

(Aretha Franklin, Rev. Martin Luther King, and her father C.L. Franklin)
(Aretha Franklin, Rev. Martin Luther King, and her father C.L. Franklin)

During a trip to California, she met R&B crooner, Sam Cooke, who then inspired her to begin recording secular pop music. Franklin moved to New York to begin her pop music career with Columbia Records. After a flopping six years with Columbia, she then made the move to Atlantic Records—and nothing was ever the same...

In April 1967, Atlantic issued Aretha a cover version of Otis Redding’s “Respect”, which became an unexpected success. “Respect” quickly became #1 on both the Pop and R&B charts. The song was later coined as her signature song and also served as an anthem for the Civil Rights & feminist movements.

Aretha landed two more top-ten hits within the same year: “Baby I Love You” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”.

By February 1968, Franklin had earned her first two Grammy’s, including the debut category Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, and was coined the Sound of Soul by TIME Magazine.


Civil Rights Activism

Besides her larger-than-life music career, Aretha also played an integral part in the Civil Rights Movement, using her platforms to advocate for racial equality. Her parents were close friends with Dr. Martin Luther King opened the doors for fighting for justice early. She was also mentored by the late, great Mahalia Jackson, Queen of Gospel and noted civil rights activist.

One of the most prominent examples of her activism was her determination to free revolutionary and scholar, Angela Davis from prison in 1970. Davis was a member of the Communist Party, an advocate for Black liberation and a women’s rights activist; she was accused of assisting a courtroom takeover gone wrong that ended in four deaths and was sent to prison for murder, kidnapping, and conspiracy charges. Angela Davis was later acquitted of all charges. Below is a screenshot of a Black Weekly Jet Magazine article that is evidence about her wanting to pay Davis's bond.

Aretha Franklin remarks in the Jet Magazine


Aretha Franklin’s musical career has spanned over six decades (which has earned her 18 Grammy’s— OK SIS!). This gem has been described as “the voice of the civil rights movement”, “the voice of Black America”, and a “symbol of black equality”. The Queen even has an ASTEROID named after her (Asteroid 249516 Aretha, Google it). She earned her Hollywood Walk of Fame star early in the game (1979) and in 1985, she had her voice declared by the State of Michigan as a “natural resource”. Aretha was also an honorary member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.


An all-star tribute to celebrate Aretha Franklin’s contributions to music is scheduled to happen on November 14th, 2018 at Madison Square Garden.


“Being a singer is a natural gift. It means I'm using to the highest degree possible the gift that God gave me to use. I'm happy with that.”

Rest in Power, Queen


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