Who Aretha Franklin Was
Aretha Franklin, a renowned gospel and blues singer, also known as “the Queen of Soul,” has passed away, according to a family’s statement on Thursday. She died at age 76.
According to a statement from Gwendolyn Quinn on behalf of Franklin’s family, she died at her home in Detroit at 9:50 am, surrounded by her family and friends. The “official cause of death was pancreatic cancer of the neuroendocrine type, a condition confirmed by Dr. Philip of Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit,” says Franklin’s family.
According to a statement from the former president of the United States in a tweet, “Aretha assisted in defining the American experience. In her voice, we could feel our history, every bit and in every shade – our power, our pain, our darkness, our light, our quest for redemption and our hard-won respect. May the Queen of Soul rest in eternal peace.”
Sam Moore, a legendary soul singer and a friend of Franklin for over 60 years said in his statement, “I adored Aretha Franklin, and I know the feelings were mutual. While I am heartbroken that she’s left us, I am confident that she is with the Lord and she is free from every pain and suffering caused by the cancer that took her away from us. I am going to hope, pray and count on the fact that I will see her again sometime. Rest in the Lord’s presence, Re.”
Fans paid tribute to her with a crown and flowers in Los Angeles on her Hollywood Walk of Fame Star. We received information from a source close to the departed that the singer was in hospital care three days before she died.
In a statement from her family, “in one of the darkest moments of our lives, we are short of words to express the pain in our heart. We have lost the matriarch and rock of our family. The love she had for her children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, cousins had no boundaries. We have been deeply touched by the incredible display of love and support from close friends, fans, and supporters all across the globe. Thank you for your care and prayers. We have felt your love for Franklin Aretha, and it brings us comfort to know that her legacy will live on. As we grieve during this difficult time, we ask that you respect our privacy.” According to the statement from the deceased family, funeral arrangements will be made known soon.
Based on reports, Aretha’s health has been deteriorating for years and appeared weak in photos taken of recent, but she kept what she was going through to herself. She announced in February 2017 that she would no longer go on tours, but she continued to book concerts. According to Rolling Stone, she cancelled a pair of performances early this year on doctor’s orders at the New Orleans Jazz Fest. Her last public performance was at an Elton John AIDS Foundation gala in New York, November last year.
Sing it: R-E-S-P-E-CT
During the course of her professional career that lasted over half a century, not only did Franklin’ topped charts, but her songs also became part of the vernacular.
Her song “Respect” was an inspiration to act. “You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman,” an earthy expression of sexuality. A song she wrote with Ted White, her husband back then, “Think,” became a uniting cry for females tired of uncouth and aggressive men.
Franklin Aretha was the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, she was the top among female vocalist with 88 Billboard charts hits during the rock period. Aretha recorded over 24 top 40 hits during the peak of her career –1967-1975.
According to her Rolling Stone biography, ”Aretha is one of the definitive female soul singer of the Sixties and one of the most important and influential voices in pop history.”
Aretha is a winner of 18 Grammy awards, she received the honour for the best female R&B performance for eight years back to back.
There was nothing unexceptional about her performance. “I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love You)’ is subtle and courageous. Sometimes, her voice comes as a whisper over Spooner Oldham’s electric piano.
“The House That Jack Built” fairly crackles: I got the house, the car, the rug, the rack, But I ain’t got Jack,” Franklin belts.
In her delivery, “Eleanor Rigby” was a figure of insolence; her song “Bridge Over Troubled Water” travelled places that Art Garfunkel, known for angelic tenor dominated Simon and Garfunkel’s original version could not reach.
She had a deep soul just as her voice was strong.
“I think of Aretha as ‘Our Lady of Mysterious Sorrows,” says the late Jerry Wexler, her producer at Atlantic Records. “Her eyes are incredible, luminous eyes covering inexplicable pain. Her depressions could be as deep as the dark sea. I don’t act like I know the origin of her anguish, but grief surrounds her as surely as the glory of her musical aura.”
A recording career at age 14
Franklin’s songs embodied the music’s debt to gospel more than any other soul star.
Franklin Aretha was born in 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee, but spent most of her time in Detroit, her Dad, C.L. Franklin, was a prominent minister and a well-known gospel singer there. She was a choir in the church her father ministered; she taught herself how to play the piano, rejecting her father’s offer of piano lessons, and at age 14, she started recording gospel music.
Aretha toured the gospel circuit with her dad and made friend with stars like Sam Cooke and Mahalia Jackson. She performed at Jackson’s funeral.
In 1960, Aretha was signed by John Hammond to Columbia Records, John was also the brain that brought the likes of Bob Dylan, Billie Holiday and Bruce Springstenn to light. She was not that successful at the label. She became more successful at Atlantic Records years after when she followed the path as a Soul and R&B singer, backed by an earthy rhythm section from Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
According to All Music Guide, “The backup musicians provided a much grittier, soulful and R&B-based accompaniment for Aretha’s voice, which soared with a passion and intensity suggesting a spirit that had been allowed to fly loose for the first time.”
Franklin racked up 10 Top Ten hits over a year and a half from 1967 to 1968. Her statement in 1963, Time magazine, “It had looked for the longest time like I would never have a fold record. I wanted one so bad.”
Not only did her music top charts – for instance, “Respect”– but feminists and African-Americans also adopted them as anthems for social change.
John Lewis, US Rep. and Civil rights icon recalled Franklin’s firm commitment to the movement.
“Her ability to live what she sang made her talent unique,” says Franklin in a statement. “Her music was deepened by her connection to the struggles and triumphs of the African American experience growing up in her dad’s church, the Detroit community, and her awareness of the South turmoil.”
Franklin sang at the funeral of Martin Luther King, Jr.
She continued releasing hit songs all through the early 1970s including “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Spanish Harlem.”
Franklin star strength started to fade during the late 1970s as the golden age of soul came to an end and as fans and critics became less interested in her songs. Nevertheless, she bounced back in the 1980s dropping the 1985 album “Who’s Zoomin’ Who?”, which spawned the hit “Freeway of Love.”
Aretha also collaborated with George Michael, a British pop star on “I Knew You Were Waiting (for Me)” and also with the Eurythmics on “Sisters are Doin’ it for Themselves.”
According to Aretha at that time, “Don’t say I am making a comeback. ‘Who’s Zommin’ Who’ was released because I have never been away.”
The pain she experienced was profoundly expressed in her music
Franklin’s personal life was tumultuous, she had two different divorce and problems with the law; however, she kept this part of her life private.
According to a 1995 Ebony magazine profile, Franklin was a mother of 4 sons; she had her first and second son at age 15 and 17 respectively. The article described her as a warm, and realistic woman with a fantastic sense of humour; who answered the door barefooted and revealed the secret to her diet as a combination of Slim-Fast and younger males. Franklin was also an accomplished cook, in her statement, “I can wear some chitlins out.”
According to the Ebony profile, some of the sources of Franklin’s pain could be linked to her growing without a mother – Barbara Franklin, who left when Franklin was 6 years in 1948 and passed away 4 years later – or the agony of losing her dad. In 1979, her father, C.L. Franklin was shot by burglars in his home, though he survived for 5 years in a semi-come before he died. Franklin in her statement told Ebony that the toughest decision she ever had to make was when her dad was in the hospital, she shed tears.
However, Franklin’s downs and emotion made her music stronger. For the past three decades, she saw some resurgences and her image as a pop icon endured, with the former president of the US, Barack Obama featuring Franklin singing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” at his 2009 inauguration. Also, Franklin performed in the inauguration of President Bill Clinton in 1992.
In 1986, the Michigan Legislature declared her voice as a national resource, and in 2005, Former president George W. Bush awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. An asteroid was even named for her.
Laura Randolph, an Ebony reporter, wrote in the 1995 profile; “she appeared relaxed and rested, like a housewife headed out for some shopping at the local K-Mart. There, or at the Woolworth’s Five and Dime where, she recalls, she’s spent most afternoons browsing and buying Knick-Knacks then sitting down at the counter to a scrumptious turkey and dressing plate with mashed potatoes oozing with gravy and loving it.”
Her deteriorating health affected her late career
Over the years, Franklin battled with different health problems such as overweight and its associated conditions.
She cancelled two free concerts in New York which was to hold August 2010 due to “fractured ribs and abdominal pain” says Gwendolyn Quinn, adding that she was instructed to come for a test instantly by her doctors.
Her doctors also instructed her to cancel all personal appearances that November. For the next 6 months at-least, according to reports from Detroit Free Press. She also had successful surgery in early December.
Franklin, in 2013 also cancelled some appearances. However, she began her tour in 2014 after recovering; she performed at New York’s Radio City Music Hall. Franklin reduced weight, lost close to a 100 pound.
Her statement to USA Today, “Buying new clothes is fun. I could not stay out of the mirror, just turning every way. This is my natural weight.”
Considering her old clothes? The shopper knew what needs to be done with her old outfits. “I am thinking of giving them to a resale shop,” says Franklin.
Her last album, “A Brand New Me,” combined her archival vocal recordings – some of her greatest hits she recorded for Atlantic Records – with modern musical arrangements by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
For more on Aretha Franklin why not check out our Aretha Franklin timeline documenting her life and while you’re doing that, why not checkout our favourite Aretha Franklin playlist containing some of Aretha’s greatest hits.