Whether she's singing bout a no-good man or the "friend we have in Jesus," for 43 years and nearly 50 albums Aretha Franklin has made generations of fans testify. With her gritty, yet sweet soulful voice, the first woman inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, is still the undisputed Queen of Soul.
The fourth child of legendary Baptist preacher C.L. Franklin and his gospel singer wife, Barbara, Aretha Louise Franklin was born on March 25, 1942, in Memphis, Tennessee. Her mother, for reasons unknown, left the family when Aretha was six and never returned. After a brief stay in Buffalo, New York, Aretha and her four siblings went to Detroit, where their father was pastor at the New Bethel Baptist Church.
Guests at Franklin's church and home included jazz great Art Tatum, popular singer Arthur Prysock and gospel legend Mahalia Jackson. Thus, Aretha Franklin's musical influences were vast. The Reverend James Cleveland and gospel singer turned pop star Sam Cooke were both friends and inspirations. Aretha's vocal role model, however, was gospel singer Clara Ward, whom she credits for making her want to play the piano and sing. One of her greatest mentors, however, was her father. At an early age, he gave Aretha records to emulate. In fact, Aretha sang her first solo at here father's church at age 12.
Summers traveling the country with her father's revival tour resulted in the 1956 release of Songs of Faith, recorded at New Bethel, for Chess Records (her father's distributor) when Aretha was just 14. After becoming a mother at age 15, with the first of her four children, Aretha quit school. Leaving two children in the care of family, at age 18 Aretha left Detroit for New York.
Signed to Columbia, Aretha was marketed as a jazz singer, even though her roots were in gospel and she admired Dinah Washington's blues. And while she recorded ten albums between 1960 and 1966, Aretha never had a big hit. Managed by then husband and Detroit native Ted White (who cowrote "Dr. Feelgood" with her), Aretha signed with Atlantic in 1966. Working with producer Jerry Wexler, Aretha, encouraged to let loose, scored big with 1967's million-seller "I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You," (boasting "Do-Right Woman, Do-Right Man" on the B-side). With sisters Carolyn (who penned "Ain't No Way") and Erma in the background, the hits kept coming; the soul classic "Respect" (Otis Redding's 1965 hit) went gold as did "Baby, I Love You," "You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman," "Chain of Fools" and "Since You've Been Gone." In addition, Aretha won at least one Grammy eight years straight.
In 1972, Aretha's outstanding To Be Young, Gifted and Black, featuring "Daydreaming" (recently covered by Mary J. Blige) and Donny Hathaway playing electric organ and piano on several songs, was followed with Amazing Grace. Aretha's return to gospel, featuring old friend Reverend James Cleveland, her father and Clara Ward wailing in the background, won a Grammy. Sparkle, her 1976 gold soundtrack with composer / producer Curtis Mayfield, spawned several hits, including "Something He Can Feel," also an En Vogue hit. Whitney Houston, whose mother Cissy Houston sang background for Aretha, and Lauryn Hill, who wrote and produced Aretha's 1998 hit "A Rose Is Still a Rose," also count her as an inspiration.
In 1978, Aretha married actor Glynn Turman (Preach in Cooley High) but returned to Detroit when her father, shot by house burglars in 1979, lapsed into a coma. Aretha's 1980 showstopping cameo in The Blues Brothers was followed with the 1982 hit "Jump to It" (written and produced by Luther Vandross) on Arista, and the 1985 hit album Who's Zoomin' Who?, featuring "Freeway of Love." She also recorded with pop artists Annie Lennox and George Michael.
Despite personal tragedies (the deaths of her father, sister Carolyn and her brother Cecil and financial problems in recent decades, the Queen of Soul continues to reign supreme.