In 2010, the Queen of Soul was diagnosed with cancer but she was determined to keep going. She became more select about the performances she made with her last being in November 2017 at the Elton John AIDS Foundation in New York. Earlier in the year she said, “I must tell you, I am retiring this year, I feel very enriched and satisfied with respect to where my career came from, and where it is now.”
Aretha Louise Franklin was born in March 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee. When she was two the family relocated to New York and then three years later settle in Detroit, Michigan where, like so many of the black soul singers of that era, she began her career in Church as a gospel singer where her father, C. L. Franklin, was the minister.
In 1960, she began her recording career after she’d signed to Columbia records but she only got a mediocre reception in the states. Between 1961 and 1966 she scored 17 Billboard Hot 100 singles but only one, Rock-A-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody made the top 40, it was when she signed to Atlantic in 1967 that her career really took off. Her first hit that that label was I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You) reached number nine but it was the follow-up, Respect topped the chart and put her firmly on the map. Within a few years she’d earned the moniker Queen of Soul.
She charted 88 Billboard Hot 100 singles and 97 R &B Hit singles. She is the most charted female in US history. In the UK, she had charted 29 hit single including duets with George Benson, Elton John and the Eurythmics. Her only UK number one was the 1987 duet with George Michael, I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me). Because Aretha was scared of flying it was rumoured for many years that the video for that single were recorded in separate countries and was spliced together, but it actual fact George Flew to the States and it was recorded together. More of that story can be read in my Single of the Week from April 2015.
Aretha is an 18-time Grammy winner. She performed Precious Lord at Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral in 1968 and America My Country Tis Of Thee at Barack Obama’s Inauguration in 2009. In 1987 became the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She was inducted to the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005 and seven years later inducted into the GMA Gospel Music Hall of Fame. She was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush in 2005.
After her father was shot in 1979, she tried her hand at acting and is best remembered for playing the part of Mrs Murphy in 1980 film The Blues Brothers alongside other legends Ray Charles, Cab Calloway and James Brown.
She continued recording throughout the nineties and had a top five hit in 1994 with A Deeper Love. Her last UK top 30 hit was A Rose Is Still a Rose in 1998 which was written and produced by Lauryn Hill.
Aretha never wanted to make her illness public and on a couple of occasions had to cancel concerts on doctor’s orders. She made a couple of appearances in 2017 and because she had lost a lot of weight rumours began to circulate about her health. She was disappointed last year about missing a show, in a statement to Rolling Stone magazine her management said, “She is extremely disappointed she cannot perform at this year’s New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival as she had expected and hoped to.”
In the early seventies Paul McCartney had written Let It Be for her, but she turned it down and the same year Paul Simon wrote Bridge Over Troubled Water for her and she turned that down too. It 1968 she was offered Son-Of-A Preacher Man and declined that as well. It was then offered to Dusty Springfield and upon hearing Dusty’s version she decided to record it. She also recorded Let It Be and Bridge over Troubled Water later in the seventies.
She has influence so many female singers over the years including Mariah Carey, Paula Abdul, Beyonce and Missy Elliott who, on hearing the news of her impending death Tweeted “Must Celebrate the Living Legends while they are here to see it. So many have given us decades of Timeless music.”
Many people would have said many prayers, but Aretha died on 16th August 2018 aged 76, exacly 41 years to the day after The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll and on the birthday of the Queen of Pop. Boy, what a day!