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Aretha Franklin

Aretha Louise Franklin (born March 25, 1942) is an American singer, songwriter and pianist commonly referred to as "The Queen of Soul". Franklin was born on March 25,1942, in Memphis, Tennessee to the Rev. C. L. Franklin, a Baptist minister, and Barbara Siggers Franklin. Aretha's parents had a troubled relationship and separated when Aretha was six. Siggers died of a heart attack when Franklin was ten. The fourth of five siblings, Aretha's father's first pulpit after Memphis was in Buffalo, New York. The family subsequently moved to Detroit, Michigan where they grew up, Rev. Franklin assumed the pulpit of the New Bethel Baptist Church, and gained national fame as a preacher. Adept at the piano as well as having a gifted voice, Franklin became a child prodigy. By the age of fourteen, she signed a record deal with Battle Records, where her father recorded his sermons and gospel vocal recordings, and she issued Songs of Faith in 1956. Her earlier influences included Clara Ward and Mahalia Jackson, both of whom spent a lot of time in Aretha's home.

Teenage pregnancies derailed Franklin's gospel career when she gave birth to Clarence in 1956 (at age 14) and Edward in 1958 (at age 16). When she returned to singing, Aretha decided to secure herself a deal as a pop artist. After being offered contracts from Motown and RCA, Franklin signed with Columbia Records in 1960. Her recordings during that time reflected a jazz influence and moved away from her gospel roots. Franklin initially scored a few hits on Columbia including her version of "Rock-A-Bye Your Baby (With A Dixie Melody)", which peaked at number 37 on the Billboard Pop Singles chart in 1961, and the Top 10 R&B hits, "Today I Sing The Blues", "Won't Be Long" and "Operation Heartbreak". However, by the end of 1966, with little commercial success in six years with Columbia and desperate for a sound of her own, she accepted an offer to sign with Atlantic Records. According to Franklin years later, "they made me sit down on the piano and the hits came".

"Queen of Soul"

  • In 1967 Franklin issued her first Atlantic single, "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)", a blues ballad that introduced listeners to her gospel style. Produced by Jerry Wexler, the song became Franklin's breakthrough single reaching the Top 10 on the Hot 100, and holding the #1 spot for 7 weeks on Billboard's R&B Singles chart. The B-side, "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man", charted on the R&B side, and introduced a more gospel element to Franklin's developing sound.

  • Her next single, "Respect", written and originally recorded by Otis Redding, firmly launched Franklin on the road to superstardom. Franklin's feminist version of the song became her signature tune for life, reaching #1 on both the R&B and the Pop charts—holding the top spot on the former chart for a record 8 weeks—and helping her Atlantic debut album, I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You, reach million-seller status.

  • In early 1968 Franklin won her first two Grammies (for "Respect"), including the first Grammy awarded in the "Best Female R&B Vocal Performance" category. She went on to win eight "Best Female R&B Vocal Performance" awards in a row.

By the end of the 1960s, Franklin's position as The Queen of Soul was firmly established. Her albums were also hot sellers; one in particular, 1972's Amazing Grace, eventually sold over two million US copies, becoming "the best-selling gospel album of all time".

Decline, Tragedy and Return to Prominence

  • On June 10, 1979, Franklin's father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin, was seriously wounded during what was said to be an attempted robbery at his Linwood Avenue home in Detroit, leaving him in a comatose state in which he remained until his death in the summer of 1984.

  • In 1980, Franklin's career was given a much-needed boost by a cameo performance as Mrs. Matt Murphy in The Blues Brothers, singing Think. That same year, Clive Davis signed Aretha to his Arista Records.

  • By 1987 Aretha returned to gospel in with her album One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism which was recorded live at her New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit.

  • In 1994, she scored another hit with the Babyface-produced ballad, "Willing To Forgive", which hit the Top 5 of Billboard's R&B chart and #26 on the Hot 100.

  • Franklin returned to prominence with her 1998 album, A Rose Is Still A Rose. The album's mixture of urban contemporary, hip-hop soul and soul was a departure from Franklin's previous material. The title track, produced by Lauryn Hill, gave her a smash hit on the R&B and Pop charts and earned a gold single while the album was certified gold also, the first time since 1986's Aretha that any of the singer's albums went gold. That same year, with less than twenty-four hours to prepare, Franklin stepped in for Luciano Pavarotti to sing "Nessun Dorma" at the 1998 Grammy Awards. (Pavarotti, who was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award that night, was too sick to attend.) She gave a soulful and highly improvised performance in the aria's original key, while firmly stamping out the year with a captivating performance during VH-1's "Divas Live" telecast.

Her most recent full studio release was 2003's critical and commercial failure So Damn Happy, which included the Grammy-winning track "Wonderful". Shortly after its release, Franklin left Arista Records after twenty-three years with the company. She has since started her own label, Aretha Records, and plans to issue her long-delayed new album, A Woman Falling Out Of Love in 2009. She is also coaching young actors during auditions for a musical based on her autobiography, From These Roots.

Aretha was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2005, during ceremonies at the White House.

In 2008, Franklin was honored as MusiCares "Person of the Year," two days prior to the 50th Annual Grammy Awards, where she was awarded her 18th career Grammy. Post-Grammy's, Miss Franklin enterted into a feud with both Beyonce and Tina Turner. This was due to the fact that Beyonce introduced Turner as 'The Queen' prior to their show-stealing duet of Proud Mary.

Franklin sang at the inauguration concerts for Bill Clinton in 1993 and at the inauguration ceremony for Barack Obama in 2009.

Personal Life

Twice divorced, Franklin is the mother of four grown sons. Two of them, Kecalf and Teddy, are active in the music business. Teddy is the musical director and guitarist of Franklin's touring band. From 1961 to 1969, Aretha was married to her manager and co-writer Ted White. In 1978 she married Cooley High actor Glynn Turman. While White had been a decade older than Aretha, Turman was four years younger. The marriage lasted until late 1982 when Franklin and her family returned permanently to Detroit. She and Turman divorced in early 1984.

She is the godmother of Whitney Houston, who also grew up to be a R&B star, rising to fame in the mid-1980s. A still image of Franklin was shown in the closing scene of Houston's 1985 video for the single "How Will I Know."

Grammy Awards

Franklin has won 21 Grammy Awards in total during her nearly half-century long career (she first charted in 1961), and holds the record for most Best Female R&B Vocal Performance award with 11 to her name (including eight consecutive awards from 1968 to 1975 - the first eight awarded in that category).

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