Artist and Musician Biographies


In this video, Aretha Franklin sings "Don't Play that Song for Me."

Aretha Franklin, the "Queen of Soul", was born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1942. Her father, C.L. Franklin, was a well-known Baptist preacher who attracted many famous followers including gospel stars Mahalia Jackson and Aretha's aunt, Clara Ward. In 1944, the family moved to Detroit, where Aretha grew up.

C.L. Franklin was also good friends with the gospel singer turned pop star, Sam Cooke. With an environment filled with musical talent, it was inevitable that Aretha would develop an interest in music. It was actually her aunt, Clara Ward, who inspired Aretha to pursue her interest in singing. Aretha joined the church choir and earned her position as a featured soloist by the age of twelve. Between the ages of 14 and 18, Aretha explored only her interest in gospel music. This allowed time for Aretha to reach deep into herself and explore her inner soul. At the same time, her life was difficult and she had two children while still a teenager.

Inspired by Sam Cooke, and helped by her grandmother, who took care of the kids, Aretha started her career and moved to New York City. After turning down a contract with Motown in Detroit, she signed with Columbia in New York at the age of 18. During the next six years at Columbia Records, Aretha recorded 10 albums without ever hitting it big. Many critics blame her delay in delivering a hit on Columbia Record's lack of direction in developing the young singer.

Disillusioned, Aretha signed with Atlantic Records under the guidance of Jerry Wexler in 1966. Wexler, aware of Aretha's emotional intensity and her gospel-inspired sound, allowed her to develop into the sensation she was destined to become. Aretha delivered her first hit single, "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Loved You)" which reached a top 10 spot in this new, more comfortable setting. Aretha, now at ease, was able to reach further into her heart and release her soul through her belting cries. The result was a string of hits including "Respect" (Otis Redding's 1965 hit), "You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman", "Chain of Fools", and "Since You've Been Gone."

As with the song, "Respect", Aretha has always been a strong proponent of women's equality and respect. She became a role model for women and African Americans during the civil rights era, commanding them to demand equality. Aretha continued to enjoy a prosperous career in the early 1970's with the single, "Day Dreaming" and the albums, "Live at Fillmore West" and "Amazing Grace."

However, as the disco rage began to cross America in the mid-1970's, Aretha's career started to falter as well as her marriage. Her innate strength, however, brought her back into the limelight with her cameo role in the film "The Blues Brothers" in 1980. Aretha also moved to Arista Records at this time and recorded two albums, "Aretha" and "Love All The Hurt Away" which were both commercially successful. Later, she recorded duets with artists such as Annie Lennox of the Eurythmics, George Micheal, Elton John, and Whitney Houston. Aretha Franklin's career has spanned more than 40 years and continues to inspire younger artists such as Whitney Houston and Lauryn Hill.

Aretha set the standard of delivering the experiences and sentiments common to women in a convincing manner. She enlightens the mind as well as heals the heart. Aretha has accomplished quite an extensive list of awards in her lifetime including 15 Grammy awards, the Grammy Legend Award, the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, in addition to her position as the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. She has also had 12 million selling singles and 20 No.1 R&B hits.

Her 1998 album, "A Rose is Still a Rose" was critically acclaimed and continues her output of quality music, giving her a deserving reason to wear her crown as the "Queen of Soul" proudly. On that album, she collaborated with hip-hop musicians Lauryn Hill and Puff Daddy Combs.

One of her last major appearences was on the Kennedy Center Honors, in 2015, singing "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”" in tribute to Carole King, who was honored that year. Franklin Passed away in 2018 after a struggle with Pancreatic Cancer.

Page authors: L.C. and C.F.