Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin

Aretha Louise Franklin (born on March 25, 1942 – Died on August 16, 2018) was an American singer, pianist, and songwriter of soul, jazz, gospel, and rhythm and blues. She is frequently nicknamed “The Queen Of Soul“.

Civil rights activist alongside Martin Luther King, woman of combat, diva and spokesperson of an entire people, Aretha Franklin is considered the most influential African-American singer of the twentieth century. Her albums I Never Loved a Man in 1967, Lady Soul in 1968 and Young, Gifted & Black in 1972 redefined the codes of contemporary music by popularizing with Ray Charles soul music mixing R&B and gospel.   Among her biggest hits are the songs  Think, (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, I Say a Little Prayer, I Never Loved A Man, Ain’t No Way, I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) duet with George Michael, Freeway of Love, Chain of Fools, Angel and Respect.

Chain of Fools became a protest song against the Vietnam War among American fighters. Respect became in 1967 a feminist anthem and the symbol of the struggle of the African-American community for its freedom.

General information
Name Aretha Franklin
Full Name Aretha Louise Franklin
Alternative Names “Queen of Soul”
“Lady Soul”
“Sister Soul”
Birth date March 25, 1942
Birthplace Memphis (Tennessee, USA)
Death date August 16, 2018 (aged 76)
Death place Detroit (Michigan, USA)
Musical genre Soul,
Rhythm and blues,
Instruments Voice,
Active years 1956-2018
Labels Chess Records (1956-1960)
Columbia Records (1960-1966)
Atlantic Records (1967-1979)
Arista Records (1979-2018)
Signature Signature Aretha Franklin

Aretha’s influence on contemporary music is great, paving the way for other great female performers, whether Patti LaBelle, Donna Summer, Natalie Cole, Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse, Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige, Beyonce, Adele or Alicia Keys. Tom Jones, Elton John, Freddie Mercury, Prince, David Bowie and Luther Vandross also note the influence of the singer on their way of making music and singing. Aretha Franklin is indeed one of the first artists to accompany herself on the piano and popularizes melisma in contemporary music, a technique that consists of singing on several notes a single syllable.

She is the highest-ranked singer in the history of the American recording industry with 112 titles placed in the American charts, including twenty No. 1s in the R&B category. With more than 75 million copies sold, she remains today the female artist who has sold the most vinyl records and, more generally, one of the artists who has sold the most records.

With eighteen Grammy Awards, Aretha Franklin is one of the most awarded artists in the United States. In 1987, she was the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She was awarded the National Medal of Arts under President Bill Clinton and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor for an American citizen, under President George W. Bush. In 2009, she sang at the inauguration of Barack Obama, the first African-American president of the United States.

After, in 2010 and 2023, Rolling Stone magazine ranked her first in the ranking of the best singers of all time. In 2019, the Pulitzer Prize jury posthumously awarded her the award “for her indelible contribution to American music and culture for more than five decades.” In 2020, Rolling Stone magazine established its ranking of the 500 best albums of all time in collaboration with three hundred music professionals. Aretha released four albums:  I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You) (13), Lady Soul (75), Amazing Grace (154, best-selling gospel album in history) and Young, Gifted & Black (388).

At the time of her death, her activism for women and the African-American community, as well as her talent as an artist, were praised.

Biography of Aretha Franklin


Aretha Franklin's youth home in Memphis, Tennessee
Aretha Franklin’s youth home in Memphis, Tennessee

Aretha Louise Franklin was born on March 25, 1942 to Barbara (née Siggers) and Clarence LaVaughn “C. L”. Franklin. Her mother gave birth at the family home at 406 Lucy Avenue in Memphis. Her father was a Baptist minister from Shelby, Mississippi, while her mother was an accomplished pianist and gospel singer. Barbara and Clarence Franklin both have children from previous relationships, in addition to the four children they had together. When Aretha was two years old, the family moved to Buffalo, New York. Then at the age of five, Aretha Franklin moved to Detroit, Michigan, where her father took over the pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church.

The Franklin couple’s marriage was stormy due to Clarence Franklin’s infidelities. The couple separated in 1948. Barbara Franklin returned to Buffalo with Aretha’s half-brother, Vaughn, leaving Clarence Franklin in charge of the other children. After the separation, Aretha remembers visiting her mother regularly in Buffalo during the summer, who often comes to see them in Detroit.

Her mother finally died of a heart attack on March 7, 1952, before Aretha’s tenth birthday. Several women, including Aretha’s grandmother, Big Mama Rachel, and legendary gospel singer Mahalia Jackson took turns helping the Franklin children. It was at this time that Aretha learned to play the piano. Self-taught, she plays by ear. Her father amuses herself by having her play the tunes she hears on the radio on the piano. Aretha quickly honed her style to become a seasoned artist and pianist. She attended Detroit Public School, spending her freshman year at Northern High School, before dropping out in second grade.

Her father’s popularity quickly became national. Franklin’s sermons earned him the title of “the million-dollar man with the voice.” He managed to earn thousands of dollars by becoming the first pastor to broadcast his sermons on the radio when he was not touring the whole country and in different churches across the country himself. C. L. Franklin, in addition to being a pastor, was also an avid civil rights activist (Martin Luther King stayed at his home when he was in Detroit).

His celebrity status earned him the visit of various personalities. Returning visitors included legendary Clara Ward, James Cleveland and Caravan members Albertina Walker and Inez Andrews. Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke also became friends with C. L. Franklin. Clara Ward became the lover of Aretha’s father from about 1949 until she died in 1973, although Aretha “preferred to regard them strictly as friends.” Clara Ward also served as a model for the young Aretha, giving her the desire to become a singer.

Beginnings in the gospel (1954-1960)

Upon her mother’s death, Franklin began singing as a chorister at New Bethel Baptist Church, beginning with the Jesus anthem, Be a Fence Around Me. At the age of 12, her father began directing her. He takes her on the road with him on his so-called “gospel caravan” tours to perform in different churches. He also signed her first contract with J.V.B. Records. Recording equipment was installed inside New Bethel Baptist Church and nine tracks were recorded. She gave birth to her first child, named Clarence in honor of her father, on January 28, 1955, before turning 13.

On August 31, 1957, at age 15, Aretha Franklin gave birth to a second child named Edward Derone Franklin.

In 1956, J.V.B. released Aretha Franklin’s first single, Never Grow Old, accompanied by You Grow Closer. Precious Lord (Part One)  and Precious Lord (Part Two) followed in 1959. These four tracks, plus There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood,  appear on the 1956 album called Spirituals. In 1965, Checker Records released a second version of the album named Songs of Faith; it included the five tracks from the  1956 album Spirituals to which were added four previously unreleased recordings. Although the album was not a commercial success, it helped introduce Aretha Franklin to the gospel circuit. By accompanying herself on the piano and singing these negro spirituals, Aretha impressed the greatest gospel singers of the time including Mahalia Jackson and James Cleveland, close to Aretha and still considered to this day as the Queen and King of the Gospel.

At this time, Franklin occasionally traveled with Sam Cooke’s band The Soul Stirrers. In the summer, Aretha is often in Chicago and stays in the family of Mavis Staples whose family group The Staple Singers begins to make a name for itself. According to music producer Quincy Jones, while Aretha was still young, “Queen of the Blues” Dinah Washington predicted that Aretha was “next.” At the age of 16, Aretha Franklin finally went on tour with Dr. Martin Luther King. She supported the pastor’s action and sang for him on various occasions, including at his funeral in 1968.

At the age of 18, Aretha confided to her father that she aspired to follow Sam Cooke and record “secular”, R&B and pop music, a curious fact for the time when moving from sacred to secular music was often not accepted. Reverend C.L. Franklin is understanding and encourages his daughter. She moved to New York in the hope of landing a contract with a record company. Her father participated as a manager in the production of a demo of two songs. This demo falls into the hands of John Hammond, the famous producer of Columbia Records.

The man, who discovered Billie Holliday ten years earlier, immediately sees Aretha as a revelation. The one who will discover at the same time Barbra Streisand and Bob Dylan signs Aretha in 1960. Aretha also took classes with choreographer Cholly Atkins to prepare for her stage performances. Signing Aretha to Columbia is for John Hammond a victory when we know the proposals made at the same time by the RCA and Motown labels. Sam Cooke is desperately trying to persuade Father Franklin to sign her to his label, RCA. Similarly, Motown label founder Berry Gordy is looking to sign Aretha and older sister Erma to his label. C.L. Franklin felt that the label was not yet sufficiently established and refused Gordy’s request.

Aretha Franklin’s single Today I Sing the Blues was released in September 1960 and reached the top 10 of the R&B bestseller chart. Her musical career is finally launched.

Introduction to jazz at Columbia (1960-1966)

In January 1961, Columbia released Aretha’s first jazz album, Aretha: With The Ray Bryant Combo. The album contained her first single, “Won’t Be Long“, which charted on the Billboard Hot 100 and peaked at number 7 on the R&B chart. The success is modest but encouraging for the 18-year-old singer. Mainly produced by Clyde Otis, Columbia recordings established Aretha as a jazz singer in the tradition of Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. Aretha sings American standards, vocal jazz, blues, doo-wop and rhythm and blues.

That same year, she recorded Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody. The song reached the top 40 in Australia and Canada. In late 1961, Franklin was named “New Female Star” by DownBeat magazine. In 1962, Columbia released two more albums, The Electrifying Aretha Franklin and The Tender, the Moving, the Swinging Aretha Franklin. If many of her titles are on the radio, her record sales do not take off.

Nevertheless, in 1962, during a performance at the Regal Theater in Chicago, Pervis Spann, a popular figure on WVON radio, proclaimed Aretha Franklin “Queen of Soul”. The nickname became the official title of Aretha Franklin. She was recognized by her peers as a jazz singer and impressed both Etta James and Sarah Vaughan. Sarah Vaughan says she has never sung Skylark again after listening to Aretha’s version, which seems unsurpassable.

In 1964, Aretha began recording more pop music and charted in the top ten of the R&B chart with her ballad Runnin’ Out of Fools in early 1965. Upon the death of Blues Queen Dinah Washington, Aretha recorded a tribute album to the singer, Unforgettable: A Tribute to Dinah Washington. It is now considered her best album on Columbia but, upon its release, it appears out of step with the successes of the time. When America suffers the wave of the Beatles and Motown artists, this beautiful tribute to an artist of the 1950s seems outdated and old-fashioned. Subsequently, several of her songs appeared in the charts in 1965 and 1966: One Step Ahead and Cry Like a Baby, then  You Made Me Love You and (No, No) I’m Losing You.

In the mid-1960s, Aretha earned $100,000 a year from multiple performances in nightclubs and theaters. Also at this time, she appeared on rock-and-roll shows such as Hollywood A Go-Go and Shindig!. Her television performances are praised — we note the great talent of this young singer accompanying herself on the piano and singing jazz as she would sing gospel hymns.

However, while Aretha is massively broadcast on the radio and has made a name (and first name), her record sales are low. John H. Hammond, head of the label, later stated that Columbia’s mistake was to have forgotten Aretha’s gospel roots. Her voice is considered too “black” to sell as much as Barbra Streisand and her songs too jazz to raise her as a fashionable singer alongside Dionne Warwick and Diana Ross. Aretha eventually left Columbia and joined Atlantic Records in 1966, the famous label of Ray Charles and Solomon Burke, major figures of soul in the 1960s.

Ascension Soul of Aretha Franklin at Atlantic (1967–1979)

In November 1966, her contract with Columbia expired and Aretha turned to Atlantic Records. In January 1967, the singer traveled to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, to record at the famous FAME Studios. She herself will say “I sat at the piano and the tubes arrived”. There she recorded the song  I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love You). When she sits down at the piano and starts singing, the whole studio is speechless. Registration can begin.

Aretha finally spent only one day there after a violent altercation between her manager and husband Ted White, studio owner Rick Hall and a horn player. The sessions stopped, but the song was finally released the following month and reached number one on the R&B chart and number nine on the Billboard Hot 100. For the first time in her career, Aretha won a gold record and a 45-rpm sold more than a million copies. The intuition of its producer Jerry Wexler is to let Aretha express herself freely and take control of the artistic direction of her music. Aretha chooses her own repertoire, arranges the songs herself on the piano and manages her backing vocalists.

The success doesn’t stop there. On April 10, 1967, Atlantic released a second single from the album, the double Respect/D Feelgood. This second 45-rpm proved to be even more promising than the first. Respect climbed to the top of the R&B and pop charts for 8 weeks. The respect demanded by Aretha found an immediate echo in American society at the time. The song quickly became the singer’s signature song, a civil rights anthem and a feminist anthem. However, the song is a borrowing from an early version of the title published a year earlier by Otis Redding. Upon hearing Aretha’s version, Otis Redding admits that his song escaped him.

Aretha completely reinvents the song by chanting each letter of R-E-S-P-E-C-T, she also adds a chorus sung in the background by the choirs with the very fashionable expression then, “Sock it to me“. The sexist title when sung by Otis becomes an anthem of strength and respect in Aretha Franklin’s interpretation. “This is a rallying cry of the civil rights movement,” Aretha wrote in her memoir. The civil rights movement made the song a mantra and Aretha a symbol of the struggle for equality and freedom. Rolling Stone magazine ranked the song number five on its list of the greatest songs of all time. The Aretha Franklin phenomenon is launched.

Aretha’s first album for Atlantic, I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, was a huge commercial and critical success. 1967 marked the beginning of the golden period for Aretha, which would not end until a decade later. During this period, she won twenty gold records and ranked 8 albums at the top of the R&B charts. Baby I Love You, (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman are huge successes. In 1968, Aretha released the albums Lady Soul and Aretha Now, driven by the hits Chain of Fools, Ain’t No Way, Think and I Say a Little Prayer.   In February, Aretha won her first two Grammys, including Best R&B Singer, a category inspired by Aretha’s success. She won the same Grammy eight times in a row. It was soon renamed The Aretha Prize.

Her success quickly went beyond the musical sphere. February 16, 1967, was declared Aretha Franklin Day. She was then received by her long-time friend Martin Luther King Jr. who saw in her a major spokesperson for the fight for American civil rights. Aretha made her first tour outside the United States in May, including at Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, where she played to a near-hysterical audience that covered her with flowers on stage. She also made a remarkable appearance at the Olympia in Paris and recorded her second live album. That same year, she appeared on the cover of Time magazine, a first for a black artist. In 1968, she was the best-known black personality behind Martin Luther King.

Aretha’s success did not falter in the early 1970s, during which time she recorded the number ones Don’t Play That Song (You Lied), Spanish Harlem, Rock Steady and Day Dreaming.

Although she turned down a number of songs during her career, some of which became international hits — Dusty Springfield’s Son Of A Preacher Man,  Natalie Cole’s This Will Be, Diana Ross’ Upside Down — she finally recorded a version of Son Of A Preacher Man in 1970, a year after Dusty Springfield’s.

The formula of the albums is the same as that of the 1960s except that Aretha writes and composes more. The albums Spirit in the Dark and Young, Gifted and Black are once again successes. In 1971, Aretha was the first R&B artist to play at San Francisco’s Fillmore West, and later that year released the live album Aretha Live at Fillmore West. In the middle of a concert, she sees Ray Charles and invites him on stage. Together, they improvise on Spirit In The Dark, a moment immortalized on the live record. Ray Charles called Aretha his “only real sister”, the only singer to whom he could be compared.

In 1972, Aretha returned to her gospel roots and recorded the album Amazing Grace, in which she performed hymns and standards such as Mahalia Jackson’s How I Got Over during a service. She includes songs by Marvin Gaye and Carole King, keen to show that sacred music and pop are not contradictory. The disc was recorded over two nights at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles. Her father is present, as are the Ward family and Mick Jagger. Amazing Grace sold more than two million copies in the year and is to date the best-selling gospel album in history. The live performances were filmed by Sydney Pollack, but due to sound timing issues, its theatrical release did not take place until 2018 by producer Alan Elliott. The year 1972 marked the pinnacle of Aretha’s career, at the top of her game, both commercially and musically.

She then joined Quincy Jones in 1973 for the recording of his new album Hey Now Hey. Quincy Jones would later say that Aretha is the most impressive artist along with Michael Jackson. The record is marked by jazz influences and brilliant piano parts written and played by Aretha. Despite the success of the single Angel written by her sister Carolyn Franklin, the album did not take off in the charts upon its release. This did not prevent Aretha from recording some hits including Until You Come Back to Me written for her by Stevie Wonder and I’m in Love.

In 1976, Aretha worked on the soundtrack of the film Sparkle with Curtis Mayfield, whom she particularly admired. The album allowed Aretha to get her last big hit of the decade with Something He Can Feel, which reached the first place of the R&B chart. Sparkle is considered by Aretha to be her best album. She manages to reinvent herself both vocally and musically. Without giving in to trendy disco influences, Sparkle is full of funk and soul influences, both old school and new school. Impactful, Aretha returns to success. However, the following albums, Sweet Passion (1977), Almighty Fire (1978) and La Diva (1979  ),  disappointed. Aretha Franklin, overwhelmed by the disco movement in which she does not recognize herself, finally left Atlantic Records and joined Arista Records in 1979.

The pop years at Arista (1980-2008)

In 1980, after leaving Atlantic Records, Aretha signed with Arista Records and Clive Davis. The same year, she gave a tailor-made concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London in front of Queen Elizabeth. Aretha was then invited on the set of the Blues Brothers in 1980. She plays the owner of a kitchen restaurant and the wife of Matt “Guitar” Murphy. She shared the bill with the other two biggest soul stars of the 1960s: James Brown and Ray Charles. For the occasion, she re-recorded her song Think. Aretha’s performance was critically acclaimed. Think became one of Aretha’s signature songs and her best-known song in France.

That same year, she released her debut album on Arista Records, which contained her first two hits of the decade United Together, and her cover of  Otis Redding’s I Can’t Turn You Loose,  nominated the following year for a Grammy Award. The next album, Love All the Hurt Away (1981), included her famous duet with George Benson on the title track, as well as his cover of  Sam & Dave’s “Hold On, I’m Comin’“,  which earned her an additional Grammy Award. In 1982, Aretha won a gold record – for the first time in seven years – with the album Jump to It produced by Luther Vandross, a fervent admirer of the singer. The following year, she released Get It Right,  still produced by Luther Vandross.

The title rises as Jump To It to the top of the R&B charts. In 1985, Who’s Zoomin’ Who? became her first album on Arista Records to be certified platinum. The album sold over a million copies, buoyed by the hits of Freeway of Love, the title track, and Another Night. The following year, she released a second successful album with the singles Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Jimmy Lee and I Knew You Were Waiting for Me, a famous duet she shared with George Michael. Andy Warhol signs the cover of the record. In 1987, she returned to the music of her childhood with the recording of a third gospel album, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, recorded at her late father’s New Bethel Baptist Church.

In 1989, she released Through the Storm and recorded duets with Whitney Houston, James Brown and Elton John. That same year, Aretha performed America the Beautiful at WWE WrestleMania III.

The 1990s, however, were less fruitful for Aretha. In 1991, her album  What You See is What You Sweat sold little. In 1993, she sang at Bill Clinton’s inauguration and performed at the White House for the President and First Lady with whom she became friends. Aretha returned to the charts in 1993 with the song “A Deeper Love”  from the film Sister Act and in 1994 with the song “Willing to Forgive“. She also wrote a track on a tribute album to Lady Diana, on a Curtis Mayfield record and for the soundtrack of a film about the life of Malcolm X: Someday We’ll All Be Free.

The end of the 1990s, however, allowed Aretha to establish herself as a reference singer. In 1998, she co-starred in VH1’s Divas Live concert at the Beacon Theatre in New York with Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Shania Twain, Carole King and Gloria Estefan. Her performance as Natural Woman with the other divas will be a landmark. In 1998, she reinvented herself by releasing  A Rose Is Still A Rose, produced and written by Lauryn Hill of The Fugees. The album of the same name is a success, sells more than 500,000 copies and allows Aretha to win one more gold record.

That same year, she replaced Luciano Pavarotti at short notice at the Grammy Awards. That evening, when the show had already begun, Luciano Pavarotti contacted the producers of the Grammys and announced that he was far too ill to perform the operatic aria Nessun Dorma as planned. 20 minutes before the performance, the producers of the show offer Aretha to replace the opera singer. A friend of Pavarotti, Aretha had just sung the song two nights earlier at an event for MusiCares.

She listened to the recording of Pavarotti’s rehearsal and agreed to sing the song in the tenor tessitura and in the key prepared by the orchestra. Introduced by Sting who explains the unexpected to the audience, Aretha finally arrives on stage. The audience honored her with a standing ovation. She will sing the song again in Philadelphia for Pope Francis at the World Family Meeting in September 2015. In the middle of a performance, a little boy, touched by Aretha’s interpretation, then goes on stage and kisses her.

In 2003, Aretha released So Damn Happy and the Grammy-winning song “Wonderful“. After, in 2004, she announced that she was leaving Arista Records after more than 20 years working for the label. To complete her obligations, however, she released a final compilation album of duets, Jewels in the Crown. The following year, she released the Christmas album This Christmas on DMI Records. Then in February 2006, she sang The Star-Spangled Banner with Aaron Neville and Dr. John for Super Bowl XL, held in her hometown of Detroit.

Final years (2008-2018)

Aretha Franklin singing during Barack Obama's inauguration ceremony in 2009
Aretha Franklin singing during Barack Obama’s inauguration ceremony in 2009

On January 20, 2009, Franklin returned to the foreground by performing My Country, ‘Tis of Thee at President Barack Obama’s inauguration ceremony. The hat she wears today becomes a cult. In 2011, Aretha, under her own label Aretha’s Records, released the album Aretha: A Woman Falling Out of Love.

In 2014, Aretha signed to RCA Records, controller of the Arista Records catalog and sister label to Columbia and Sony Music Entertainment. She reconnects with her producer Clive Davis. An album was recorded with producers Babyface and Danger Mouse. On September 29, 2014, Aretha performed on David Letterman’s Late Show with Cissy Houston and sang Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” and  Marvin Gaye/Diana Ross’  “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough“.Her cover of  “Rolling in the Deep” was featured on her first and final RCA album, Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics, released in October 2014. In doing so, she became the first woman to have one hundred songs on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart with the success of her cover of  Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep“.

She performed at the White House in 2015 and sang I Never Loved A Man and Amazing Grace. In December 2015, Aretha sang (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman at the Kennedy Center Honors in Washington for Carole King, honored that night. Barack Obama, overwhelmed by emotion, cannot hold back his tears. Near the end of the song, she drops her fur coat on stage, earning her a standing ovation from the audience. This is her last big performance. She returned to Ford Field in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day 2016 to perform the national anthem again during the game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Detroit Lions. Sitting behind the piano, dressed in a black fur coat and a Lions cap, Aretha sings The Star-Spangled Banner for more than four minutes and includes a number of improvisations.

Aretha released her latest album A Brand New Me in  November 2017 with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London, which uses archival recordings of Aretha with which they rearrange her greatest songs.

Aretha canceled a number of concerts in 2017 for health reasons and asked the audience to pray for her at an open-air show in Detroit in front of 15,000 people. However, Aretha continues to perform all over the country and to be acclaimed by audiences and critics alike. On September 3, 2017, she played one last time at the Ravinia Festival. Her last performance finally took place at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City during Elton John’s 25th anniversary gala for the Elton John AIDS Foundation, on November 7, 2017. Aretha seems very weakened and very thin.

Death of Aretha Franklin

On August 13, 2018, Aretha became seriously ill at her home in Riverfront Towers, Detroit. She is in palliative care and surrounded by friends and family; Stevie Wonder, Jesse Jackson and her ex-husband Glynn Turman visit her on her deathbed. She died at her home on August 16, at the age of 76, without a will. The cause of death is a malignant pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor (pNET), distinct from the most common form of pancreatic cancer.


Many entertainment industry celebrities and politicians pay tribute to her, including former U.S. presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, for whom Aretha “helped define the American experience.” Civil rights activist Al Sharpton calls her “an icon of civil rights and humanitarianism.” Elton John said: “The loss of Aretha Franklin is a shock to all who love real music: music that comes from the heart, soul and church. Her voice was unique, her abilities as a pianist underestimated. She was one of my favorite pianists […] I adored her and revered her talent. God bless her.”

Paul McCartney, Diana Ross, Christina Aguilera, Beyoncé, Britney Spears, Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga, John Legend, The Rolling Stones, Billy Joel, Ricky Martin, Carole King, Annie Lennox, Ariana Grande, Shawn Mendes, Celine Dion, Line Renaud all react to the disappearance of the singer.

In a press release, Culture Minister Françoise Nyssen said: “With Aretha Franklin, a great performer with a powerful and unforgettable voice leaves us. For more than 60 years, in the United States and on stages around the world, she put her talent at the service of gospel, rhythm and blues, jazz, and especially soul music, of which she was the queen. We will remember her anthology albums, her great concerts, her singing at the funeral of Martin Luther King or the inauguration of Barack Obama. I pay tribute to the great artist — singer and pianist — at the 18 Grammy Awards. And also to the woman who naturally imposed respect, this respect that she sang so well in a song with worldwide success. I pay tribute to her commitment to civil rights, as well as to the feminist cause.”

When Aretha died, fans paid tribute to her at subway stations in New York City, Franklin Street in Manhattan, and Franklin Avenue in Brooklyn. The operator of the subway system, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, then placed temporary black-and-white stickers with the word “Respect” next to the “Franklin” name signs. Her star on Hollywood Boulevard is decorated, as is her birthplace in Memphis. Fans also gather in front of the New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit and in front of the Apollo Theater in New York. Her music is played in front of the buildings for several days.

Like activist Rosa Parks in 2005, her remains are on display for three days at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit.

Burial of Aretha Franklin

A memorial service was held at New Bethel Baptist Church on August 19. Thousands of people pay tribute to it during a public exhibition at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. Tens of thousands of people marched to see Aretha Franklin’s remains for three days.

The funeral on August 31 is being held at the Greater Grace Temple in Detroit — including tributes from celebrities, politicians, friends and family. The ceremony is broadcast live by news agencies – Fox News, CNN, The Word Network, BET and MSNBC.

Among those present at the ceremony were Ariana Grande, Bill Clinton, Al Sharpton, Louis Farrakhan, Faith Hill, Fantasia, The Clark Sisters, Ronald Isley, Angie Stone, Chaka Khan, Jennifer Holliday, Loretta Devine, Jennifer Hudson, Queen Latifah, Shirley Caesar, Stevie Wonder, Eric Holder, Gladys Knight, Cedric the Entertainer, Tyler Perry, Smokey Robinson and Yolanda Adams.

At Aretha’s request, Rev. Jasper Williams Jr. of Salem Baptist Church in Atlanta officiated the ceremony. A hundred Cadillac Rose strolls through the city of Detroit to pay tribute to Aretha and her song Freeway of Love.

After a televised procession along Seven Mile Road, Aretha Franklin was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Detroit.


Role in the civil rights movement

In 1967, Respect became a civil rights anthem. The respect demanded by Aretha resonates immediately at a time when the African-American community is demanding respect and consideration. “Respect was a need for an entire nation, for the man and woman on the street, the businessman and the mother, the firefighter and the teacher. Everyone demanded respect. It was also the rallying cry of the civil rights movement,” Aretha wrote in her memoirs.

Aretha’s activism for the civil rights movement is a long-standing commitment. Aretha grew up in the Strait of the 1950s, surrounded from childhood by the greatest figures of the civil rights movement. Her father, a Baptist minister, was an activist and close friend of Pastor Martin Luther King. In 1963, he organized the Detroit Freedom March – at the time the largest civil rights demonstration ever held in the United States. Martin Luther King recites a first version of his famous speech “I Have a Dream“, a few months before his great march on Washington. Pastor Martin Luther King plays a vital role in Aretha’s life. The pastor is a regular at Pastor C.L. Franklin’s church and sleeps with the Franklins when he is in Detroit. He became a source of inspiration for the young Aretha.

At the age of 16, she went on tour with Martin Luther King, shortly after recording her first album. Ten years later, she sang at his funeral. She performed Precious Lord Take My Hand, the Reverend’s favorite song. A song she sang several times for the Reverend, especially after a meeting at McCormick Place in Chicago in 1963. That night, Dinah Washington, Mahalia Jackson and Aretha were invited to sing. Taylor Branch in America in The King Years recalls that evening: “All three kept the audience in suspense until two o’clock in the morning, but Aretha won all the votes by performing the final anthem (…).

Giving a moving reading of Precious Lord, Take My Hand, she left an audience stunned convinced that they had witnessed a historic moment” Aretha sang several times for Martin Luther King all over the country. “Black is synonymous with beauty but also with suffering and struggle,” says Aretha. As early as the early 1960s, a clause in her contract informed promoters that she was not performing in front of a segregated audience.

In 1970, she demanded the release of activist Angela Davis and offered to pay bail. She then publicly declared:

“My father [Rev. C.L. Franklin of Detroit] advises me not to speak up, but I must remain true to my convictions. Angela Davis must be released. Black people unjustly locked up must be released. I myself was incarcerated [after a protest in Detroit] and I know that you have to protest to be respected. Prison is hell. I call on justice to do its job, not because I believe in communism, but because Angela Davis is a black woman and she fights for the freedom of black people. I have the money; I got it from the black people — they made me financially able to have it, so I want to use it to help our people.”

Activist Jesse Jackson explains: “When we had trouble raising money because of Dr. King’s anti-war stance, she sang for free, raising money for the cause. One night in Houston, Texas, she was on stage and they fired tear gas at the fan. She kept singing, she stayed upright.” Jackson told USA Today that Aretha has funded dozens of civil rights protests and campaigns. However, Aretha has never publicly promoted it. Publicly, Aretha remains discreet about her commitment. Her producer Jerry Wexler explains that “she didn’t talk about it”.

“For her, her opinions were part of her private life. She devoted much of her time to Martin Luther King, but never indulged in polemics and easy slogans. Her positions were primarily based on her beliefs and faith.”

For D Bernice King, the daughter of Martin Luther King, Aretha is a “striking example” of how music can be used for social transformation. “As an activist, she has not only used her voice to entertain but to spread messages and inspire generations and generations. Her songs have become hymns to freedom.” After Respect, the songs Chain of Fools, A Change Is Going to Come, Think and Young, Gifted & Black embody the movement throughout the 1960s and 70s. The strength of her voice and her confidence become symbols of pride and strength. “Her music carries an electrical energy characteristic of this pivotal period,” explains Sebastien Danchin in his biography dedicated to the singer. John Lewis, a historical figure of the movement, said:

“When she sang, she embodied what we were fighting for and her music strengthened us. It would invigorate us. She was like a muse whose songs gave us the strength to keep going. Her music gave us a greater sense of determination to never give up or capitulate and to keep the faith.”

In the decades that followed, Aretha Franklin became the face and leading voice of African American civil rights. Naturally, Barack Obama chose her to sing at his inauguration, he, the first African-American president. Aretha’s presence is the symbol of the victory of the civil rights movement.

Upon his passing, his impact on the civil rights movement was emphasized. Barack Obama declared: “In her voice, we could read our history, in its entirety and in all its nuances: our power and our sorrows, our dark side and our light, our quest for redemption and hard-earned respect.” The NAACP, the leading civil rights organization, which presented him with an award in 2008 for her work, states:

“No one can talk about the civil rights movement or music without offering respect to the Queen of Soul.”

Feminist figure

In The Death Of Rhythm & Blues, critic Nelson George states “Aretha expressed all that the black woman could be at a time when her contemporaries (Diana Ross, Tina Turner, Dionne Warwick, Martha Reeves and even Gladys Knight) were locked into a subordinate role by the artistic decisions of male producers”.

For generations of women, Aretha is a role model that has represented not only the fight for equal rights but also gender equality.

Among her greatest feminist songs are Think, Respect and  Do Right Man, Do Right Woman.

In Do Right Man, Do Right Woman, she sings in response to  James Brown’s It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World:

“A woman’s only human
You should understand
She’s not just a plaything
She’s flesh and blood just like her man
They say that it’s a man’s world
But you can’t prove that by me
And as long as we’re together baby
Show some respect for me.”

In Think, she asks her man to think carefully about the consequences of his actions and the harm he does to her:

“You better think (think)
Think about what you’re tryin’ to do to me.”

Finally, in Respect, she transforms the words written by Otis Redding and the song with macho connotations into a feminist anthem:

“What you want
Baby, I got it
What you need
Do you know I got it?
All I’m askin’
Is for a little respect when you get home (just a little bit)
Hey baby (just a little bit) when you get home
(Just a little bit) mister (just a little bit).”

Respect remains Aretha Franklin’s most iconic feminist song. The song was originally sung and recorded by Otis Redding in 1966. The song was not a success, however. The following year, Aretha decided to record her own version. She rewrites part of the lyrics, changes the rhythm of the song, adds a bridge where she chants each letter of R-E-S-P-E-C-T. ”  All I’m asking is for a little respect when I come home  ” becomes “All I’m asking is for a little respect when you get home“. David Ritz in the biography of the singer states: “Her version is so deep and so filled with anguish, determination, tenacity and all these contradictory emotions that it has become an anthem.” Otis Redding himself will admit that Aretha has taken over his song. The song spent 12 weeks at the top of the US charts.

A successful, assertive, assertive, strong and talented woman, Aretha became a role model for many women. She also became the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, the American Rock Hall of Fame and the second woman to be inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame. In addition, she is the first black woman to make the cover of Time.

She was the first woman to sing at the Palais des Sports in Paris in 1977. The concert is sold out.

The private life of Aretha Franklin

Places of life

Raised in Detroit, Franklin moved to New York City in the 1960s before moving to Los Angeles in the mid-1970s. She moved to Encino and lived there until 1982.

After, she then returned to Bloomfield Hills, a suburb of Detroit, Michigan, to be close to her father, who was in a coma after being the victim of a burglary at his home. She remained in Detroit until her death in 2018.

Following an incident in 1984, she developed a phobia of flying that prevented her from traveling abroad; she subsequently performed only in North America and from then on refused several invitations from Queen Elizabeth II.


Aretha Franklin is the mother of four sons.

She gave birth to her first child, named Clarence in honor of her father, on January 28, 1955, at the age of 12. Rumors attribute paternity to Donald Burk, a boy she met at school. However, in one of her handwritten wills discovered in 2019, Aretha reveals that the father is Edward Jordan, also the father of her second son.

On August 31, 1957, Franklin had a second child with Jordan, named Edward Derone Franklin. Aretha has never publicly announced the identity of the father, however, and her two children nevertheless bear his surname: Franklin.

Her third child, Ted White Jr., was born in February 1964 to her then-husband, Theodore “Ted” White. Ted White Jr is known professionally as Teddy Richards and plays guitar for his mother throughout his life.

Finally, her youngest son, Kecalf Cunningham, born in April 1970, is the child of her road manager Ken Cunningham. Kecalf comes from her parents’ initials KEC for Ken E. Cunningham and ALF for Aretha Louise Franklin.

Love life

Aretha Franklin was married twice. She married Ted White in 1961 at the age of 19. Aretha first met White at a party at her home in 1954. White was at the time the companion of blues singer Dinah Washington. After a controversial marriage and a number of domestic violence, Aretha separated from Ted in 1968 and divorced in 1969.

Franklin then married actor Glynn Turman on April 11, 1978, at her father’s church in Detroit. Aretha becomes the stepmother to Glynn’s three children from a previous marriage. Aretha and Glynn finally separated in 1982 after Aretha returned to Michigan. The couple divorced in 1984.

In 2012, Aretha Franklin announced her upcoming marriage to longtime partner Willie Wilkerson. She and Wilkerson had already gotten engaged twice before. However, Aretha annuls the marriage without any explanation.

Franklin is also said to have had relationships with vocalists Sam Cooke, James Brown and Dennis Edwards of Motown band The Temptations. The latter will inspire him the song Day Dreaming.


Aretha Franklin’s sisters, Erma and Carolyn, are professional singers and sing many times on Aretha’s recordings, including for Atlantic Records. Her sister Carolyn Franklin wrote several songs for Aretha including two big hits: Ain’t No Way and Angel. Franklin also accompanied Aretha on tour and recorded the song “Piece of My Heart”. However, the song did not achieve success until a few years later with the cover of Janis Joplin.

After Aretha Franklin’s divorce from Ted White, her brother Cecil became her manager until his death from lung cancer on December 26, 1989. Carolyn died in April 1988 of breast cancer, while Erma died of throat cancer in September 2002. Franklin’s half-brother Vaughn died in late 2002. His half-sister, Carol Kelley (born Jennings in 1940), was the daughter of C. L. Franklin and Mildred Jennings, a 12-year-old parishioner of New Salem Baptist Church in Memphis.

Death of her father C.L Franklin

At the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas on June 10, 1979, Aretha Franklin learned that her father, C. L., had been shot at point-blank range in his Detroit home. After six months at Henry Ford Hospital and while still in a coma, C. L. was taken home. Nursing care is provided 24 hours a day. Aretha returned to Detroit in late 1982 to help care for her father and support her sisters.

The Reverend died at the New Light Nursing Home in Detroit on July 27, 1984.

Close to people in the music industry

Aretha Franklin is a close friend of Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Berry Gordy, Ray Charles, Mavis Staples, Mahalia Jackson, Sam Cooke, The Four Tops, Chaka Khan, Luther Vandross, Gladys Knight, Patti LaBelle and Cissy Houston, mother of Whitney Houston — whose godmother she is. — and backing vocalist in Sweet Inspirations for Aretha. Cissy Houston also sings in the background on the Aretha hit Ain’t No Way.

Franklin first met Cissy’s daughter, Whitney Houston, in the early 1970s. She becomes her godmother of heart. Whitney would call her all her life: “Auntie Ree” (Aunt Ree).


Aretha Franklin struggled much of her life with alcoholism, bulimia and addiction to tobacco, which she chain-smoked. She quit alcohol in the 1960s and tobacco in 1992.

Political views

Aretha Franklin is a longtime Democrat. She sang before several Barack Obama rallies, several Democratic conventions, and for the inauguration of three Democratic presidents: Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.


She was a Baptist Christian and organized several concerts at the New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit.

Controversies about Aretha Franklin

At Whitney Houston’s funeral on February 18, 2012, Aretha canceled her appearance due to leg spasms. Singer Dionne Warwick will point out Aretha’s absence live during the ceremony. A media war is then launched between the two artists.

Aretha Franklin is known for her rivalries with a number of her peers including Barbra Streisand, Roberta Flack, Gladys Knight, Diana Ross, Luther Vandross and Tina Turner.

In 1976, Natalie Cole released the title This Will Be. The song, first proposed to Aretha, was eventually recorded by Natalie Cole, daughter of Nat King Cole. The song became a worldwide hit. Strongly influenced by Aretha, Natalie Cole won the Grammy Award for the best female R&B performance that Aretha had won so far every year for 8 years. The label of “new Aretha Franklin” given by the press to Natalie Cole led to a rivalry between the two singers.

Aretha has suffered from eating disorders since her mother died at the age of ten. Her repeated weight gains are strongly relayed in the media. In 2011, after a tribute to the Grammy Awards, Aretha appears very thin. She will admit to the journalist Wendy Williams to have lost 85 pounds (about 40 kilos).

At the 50th Grammy Awards on February 10, 2008, singer Beyoncé took the floor to introduce Tina Turner. At the end of a tape recorder in which she quotes Aretha, Beyoncé declares that “there is a legend that has the essence of everything: glamour, soul, passion, strength, talent. Ladies and gentlemen… Stand up for the Queen!”. Aretha’s agent reported after the ceremony her reaction: “I don’t know exactly who, Grammy writers or Beyoncé, I offended […], but it’s an element likely to create controversy.” Sometime later, however, Aretha will admit to being a great admirer of Beyoncé.

In 2014, David Ritz, with whom Aretha had co-written her autobiography, published Respect: The Life Of Aretha Franklin. Aretha then declares: “As many of you know, a garbage book, full of lies about me has just come out… [Its author’s] actions are obviously vindictive — seeking revenge for removing some of the delusional passages he wanted to include in my book 15 years ago. It’s obvious that he’s been mad at me ever since.” The book looks back on her first pregnancies, on the personality of her father and mother, on her rivalries with her peers, on her great shyness, her jealousy, on her diva excesses, her bulimia, her depression or her addiction to alcohol. David Ritz reproaches Aretha for having sought to paint in the media an idyllic life by omitting the trials and painful moments of her own life.

Following Franklin’s death, President Donald Trump said he knew her well and that she had worked for him on several occasions. This statement caused a reaction — many recall that Aretha Franklin had refused to sing at Donald Trump’s inauguration ceremony. He wanted her to sing to “reconcile the country” after his election but she said then that no amount of money could convince her to come and play for him.

At the MTV Video Music Awards in 2018, Madonna was invited to pay tribute to Aretha. The tribute deemed megalomaniac forces Madonna to react to the controversy. She says: “I was asked to present the Video of the Year award! Then I was asked to share anecdotes in my career related to Aretha Franklin! I mentioned a step on my way and thanked Aretha for inspiring me. I didn’t want to pay him a tribute! I could not have done him justice in that context. Unfortunately, people have a limited attention span, and they judge quickly. I love Aretha!”.


Aretha Franklin has won 18 Grammy Awards and been nominated 44 times in her forty-five-year career and 1 Dove Award. She still holds the record for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance with 11 wins (including 8 consecutive wins from 1968-1975).

Grammy Awards

Aretha Franklin’s Grammy wins
Year Category Gender Title
1968 Best Rhythm And Blues Recording R&B Respect
1968 Best Female R&B Vocal Performance R&B Respect
1969 Best Female R&B Vocal Performance R&B Chain of Fools
1970 Best Female R&B Vocal Performance R&B Share Your Love with Me
1971 Best Female R&B Vocal Performance R&B Don’t Play That Song (You Lied)
1972 Best Female R&B Vocal Performance R&B Bridge over Troubled Water
1973 Best Female R&B Vocal Performance R&B Young, Gifted and Black
1973 Best Soul Gospel Performance Gospel Amazing Grace
1974 Best Female R&B Vocal Performance R&B Master of Eyes
1975 Best Female R&B Vocal Performance R&B Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing
1982 Best Female R&B Vocal Performance R&B Hold On, I’m Comin’
1986 Best Female R&B Vocal Performance R&B Freeway of Love
1988 Best Female R&B Vocal Performance R&B Aretha
1988 Best R&B Vocal By Duo Or Group R&B I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)
with George Michael
1991 Legend Award General
2004 Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance R&B Wonderful
2006 Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance R&B A House Is Not a Home

Honors of Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin (center), Robert Conquest (left) and Alan Greenspan receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House in 2005
Aretha Franklin (center), Robert Conquest (left) and Alan Greenspan receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House in 2005
  • In 1979, she received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
  • In 1985, her voice was declared a “natural resource” by the state of Michigan.
  • In 1987, she became the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
  • In 1991, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences awarded her a Grammy Legend Award.
  • In 1994, she received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award
  • In 1994, she was honored by the Kennedy Center.
  • In 1997, she was inducted into the NAACPImage Awards Hall Of Fame.
  • In 1999, Bill Clinton awarded her the National Medal of Arts.
  • In 2005, George W. Bush presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom
  • In 2005, she was the second woman to be inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame.
  • In 2005, she was inducted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame.
  • In 2008, she was MusiCares Person of the Year in 2008 with Michael Jackson.
  • In 2008, the NAACP presented her with the Image Awards Vanguard Award.
  • In 2010, she was ranked first on Rolling Stone magazine’s “100 Greatest Singers of All Time” list and ninth on the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time” list.
  • In 2010, an asteroid, (249516) Aretha, was named in her honor.
  • In 2011, the Grammy ceremony paid tribute to the singer with a medley of her classics with Christina Aguilera, Florence Welch, Jennifer Hudson, Martina McBride and Yolanda Adams
  • In 2011, she was ranked 19 among the Billboard Hot’s 100 greatest artists of all time.
  • In 2012, she was inducted into the GMA Gospel Music Hall of Fame for being “the voice of the civil rights movement, the voice of black America” and a “symbol of black equality.”
  • In 2002 and 2012, she topped the “Women Who Rock: 50 Best Albums of All Time” chart with her album  I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You. She came first ahead of Joni Mitchell’s Blue and Dusty In Memphis‘ Dusty Springfield.
  • In 2015, Billboardla named the greatest female R&B artist of all time.
  • On June 8, 2017, the city of Detroit honored her by renaming part of Madison Street, between Brush Street and Witherell Street Aretha Franklin Way.
  • On January 29, 2018, Gary Graff confirmed that Jennifer Hudson plays Aretha Franklin in an upcoming biopic scheduled for late 2020.
  • In 2018, she was inducted into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame.
  • In 2018, the American Music Awards honored her in a gospel medley featuring Gladys Knight, Donnie McClurkin, Ledisi, Cece Winans, and Mary Mary.
  • On January 13, 2019, a tribute concert, Aretha! A Grammy Celebration for the Queen of Soul, takes place at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. Smokey Robinson, Barbra Streisand, Janelle Monáe, Alicia Keys, John Legend, Kelly Clarkson, Celine Dion, Alessia Cara, Patti LaBelle, Jennifer Hudson, Chloe x Halle, E.R., SZA, Brandi Carlile, Yolanda Adams, and Shirley Caesar perform at the concert.
  • In 2019, Fantasia Barrino-Taylor, Andra Day and Yolanda Adams sang A Natural Woman (You Make Me Feel Like) at the 61st Grammy Awards.
  • In 2019, she was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize “for her indelible contribution to American music and culture for more than five decades.” Aretha is the first woman to receive a special mention from the Pulitzer Prize.
  • On September 2, 2019, the department of Seine-Saint-Denis opens an Aretha-Franklin college in the commune of Drancy.
  • In 2020, National Geographic announced that it would air a 12-episode series Genius: Aretha later this year with Cynthia Erivo as Aretha Franklin. The series traces the career and life of the singer.
  • In 2020, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Records and musical legacy

Aretha Franklin’s influence on contemporary music is very important.

  • On contemporary R&B/Soul inspiring Lauryn Hill, Adele, Amy Winehouse, Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige, Alicia Keys, Jennifer Hudson, Erykah Badu, Janelle Monae, Duffyet Bruno Mars
  • On electronic and dance music with David Mancuso, Larry Levan, Frankie Knuckles, Black Box, C+C Music Factory, Zeds Dead, Jauz, Mura Masa, Romare, Floorplan and Robert Hood
  • On rap with Kanye West, Fugees, Jay-Z, Meek Mill, OutKast, Onyx, Mos Def, Styles P, Dre, Roxanne Shanté, Rapsody, Public Enemy, Cam’ron, T.I., A Tribe Called Quest, Yasiin Bey, Mobb Deep, P.Diddy
  • On country music with Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette, Kitty Wells, Kenny Rogers, Clint Black, Chris Stapleton, Trisha Yearwood
  • On 1970s disco with Donna Summer, Gloria Gaynor, The Pointer Sisters, Martha Wash, and Loleatta Holloway
  • On 1970s rock with Queen, Elton John, Carole King, The Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney
  • On 1980s pop with Annie Lennox, George Michael, Luther Vandross, Madonna, Prince, and Michael Jackson
  • On 1990s vocal singers and the use of melisma with Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston and Celine Dion
  • On pop music from 2000-2010 with Lady Gaga, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, Norah Jones, Justin Timberlake, Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendeset and Ariana Grande
Ranking Awarded by… Title Rewarded Date
1 Rolling Stone 200 greatest singers of all time Aretha Franklin 2023
1 Rolling Stone 100 greatest singers of all time Aretha Franklin 2010
1 Rolling Stone Women in Rock: 50 Essential Albums I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You) (album) 2012
1 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Women inductees Aretha Franklin 1987
1 TIME Black women on the cover of TIME Aretha Franklin 1968
1 Billboard Greatest female R&B artists of all time Aretha Franklin 2011
1 New Musical Express 150 Best Songs of All Time I Say A Little Prayer 1987
1 YouGov Americans’ favorite female artists Aretha Franklin 2018
1 YouGov Favorite soul/funk artists in the United States Aretha Franklin 2020
2 YouGov Most famous soul/funk artists in the United States Aretha Franklin 2020
2 UK Music Hall of Fame Women inductees Aretha Franklin 2005
5 Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Songs of All Time Respect 2017
9 Rolling Stone 100 greatest artists of all time Aretha Franklin 2010
13 Rolling Stone 500 greatest albums of all time I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You) (album) 2020
15 Pitchfork Media 200 greatest songs of all time Think 2006
19 Billboard Greatest artists of all time Aretha Franklin 2011
20 Acclaimed music 1000 greatest artists of all time Aretha Franklin
27 VH1 100 greatest artists of all time Aretha Franklin 2010
30 VH1 Greatest albums of all time I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You (album) 2001
35 Rolling Stone 50 Best Live Albums of All Time “Live at Fillmore West’” 2015
41 VH1 Greatest albums of all time Lady Soul (album) 2001
75 Rolling Stone 500 greatest albums of all time Lady Soul (album) 2020
76 VH1 Greatest albums of all time Young, Gifted & Black (album) 2001
83 Rolling Stone Magazine 500 greatest albums of all time I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You) (album) 2003
84 Rolling Stone Magazine 500 greatest albums of all time Lady Soul (album) 2003
133 Pitchfork Media 200 best albums of the 1960s Aretha Now (album)
154 Rolling Stone 500 greatest albums of all time Amazing Grace (album) 2020
186 Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Songs of All Time I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You) (song) 2017
248 Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Songs of All Time Chain of Fools 2017
388 Rolling Stone Magazine 500 greatest albums of all time Young, Gifted & Black (album) 2020
473 Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Songs of All Time Do Right Man Do Right Woman 2017

In 2002, the Library of Congress added Respect for Aretha Franklin to the National Recording Registry. Respect was included in the list of “Songs of the Century” by the Recording Industry of America and the National Endowment for the Arts.

I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You (album) was included on the 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die (2005) and 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die (2008).

The polling institute YouGov estimates that Aretha Franklin is the most popular soul and funk artist in the United States and the second most famous behind Stevie Wonder. Aretha Franklin is described by her fans as: great performer, talented, legendary, entertaining and amazing. It receives 74% of positive opinions, 4% of negative opinions and 14% of neutral opinions. 93% of respondents have heard of Aretha Franklin. With 40% positive opinions, Aretha Franklin is more popular among baby boomers than among other age groups. With 52% positive reviews, Aretha Franklin is more popular among women than men.

Billboard Balance Sheet

Aretha Franklin is ranked first of the most successful female singers in the charts of the rock era (1955-2012). It ranked 112 singles on the Billboard — 77 entries on the Billboard Hot 100, 17 songs in the top 10 pop, 100 songs on the Billboard R&B including 20 number 1 tracks.

In 2020 with the release of a solo version of the song Never Gonna Break My Faith, Aretha Franklin officially ranks one number 1 song per decade since the 1960s.

Balance sheets in the top 10 Pop and R&B:

Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs

  • N1: Respect (1967); I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You) (1967); Baby, I Love You (1967); Chain of Fools (1967); (Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone (1968); Think (1968); Share Your Love with Me (1969); Call Me (1970); Don’t Play That Song (You Lied) (1970); Bridge Over Troubled Water (1971); Spanish Harlem (1971); Day Dreaming (1972); Angel (1973); Until You Come Back to Me (That’s What I’m going to Do) (1973); I’m in Love (1974); Something He Can Feel (1976); Break It to Me Gently (1977); Jump to It (1982); Get It Right (1983); Freeway of Love (1985)
  • N2: (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman (1967); The House That Jack Built (1968); Rock Steady (1971); Who’s Zoomin’ Who (1985); Jimmy Lee (1986)
  • N3: I Say a Little Prayer (1968); The Weight (1969); I Can’t See Myself Leaving You (1969); Spirit in the Dark (1970); The Thrill Is Gone (1970); You’re All I Need to Get By (1971); United Together (1980)
  • N5: Eleanor Rigby (1969); Border Song (Holy Moses) (1970); It Isn’t, It Wasn’t, It Ain’t Never Gonna Be (1989); Willing to Forgive (1994); A Rose Is Still a Rose (1998); I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)  (1987)
  • N6: Operation Heartbreak (1961); Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing (1974); Without Love (1974); Love All the Hurt Away (1981)
  • N7: Won’t Be Long (1960); All the King’s Horses (1972); April Fools (1972); Every Girl (Wants My Guy)  (1983)
  • N8: Master of Eyes (The Deepness of Your Eyes)  (1973)
  • N9: Ain’t No Way (1968); See Saw (1968); Oh Me Oh My (I’m a Fool for You Baby) (1971); Another Night (1986)
  • N10: Today I Sing the Blues (1960); My Song (1968); Look into Your Heart (1977)

Billboard Hot 100

  • N1: Respect (1967); I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)  (1987)
  • N2: Chains of Fools (1967), Spanish Harlem (1971)
  • N3: Until You Come Back to Me (1973); Freeway of Love (1985)
  • N4: Baby, I Love You (1967)
  • N5: Since You’ve Been Gone (1968); Day Dreaming (1972)
  • N6: The House That Jack Built (1968), Bridge Over Troubled Water (1971)
  • N7: See Saw (1968); Think (1968); Who’s Zoomin’ Who (1985)
  • N8: A Natural Woman (1967)
  • N9: I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You) (1967), Rock Steady (1971)
  • N10: I Say a Little Prayer (1968)

Discography of Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin has recorded a total of 42 studio albums and sold over 75 million records. In the United States, 14 of her albums are certified at least Gold. Her best-selling album is Amazing Grace, the best-selling gospel album in history.

Studio albums

  • Songs of Faith (1956)
  • 1961: Aretha With Ray Bryant Combo
  • The Electrifying Aretha Franklin (1962)
  • 1962: The Tender, The Moving, The Swinging Aretha Franklin
  • Laughing on the Outside (1963)
  • Unforgettable: A Tribute to Dinah Washington (1964)
  • 1964: Runnin’ Out of Fools
  • 1965: Yeah!! (Aretha Franklin in Person)
  • Soul Sister (1966)
  • Take It Like You Give It (1967)
  • 1967: I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You (Album ranked first among the 50 greatest albums of all time in the “Women who rock” category by Rolling Stone Magazine)
  • 1967: Aretha Arrives
  • 1967: Take a Look
  • Lady Soul (1968)
  • 1968: Aretha Now
  • Once in a Lifetime (1969)
  • 1969: Soul ’69
  • 1969: Soft and Beautiful
  • This Girl’s in Love with You (1970)
  • 1970: Spirit in the Dark
  • Young, Gifted and Black (1972)
  • Hey Now Hey (1973)
  • With Everything I Feel in Me (1974)
  • 1974: Let Me in Your Life
  • You (1975)
  • Sparkle (1976)
  • Sweet Passion (1977)
  • Almighty Fire (1978)
  • La Diva (1979)
  • Aretha (1980)
  • Love All the Hurt Away (1981)
  • Jump to It (1982)
  • Get It Right (1983)
  • Who’s Zoomin’ Who (1985)
  • Aretha (1986)
  • Through the Storm (1989)
  • What You See Is What You Sweat (1991)
  • A Rose Is Still a Rose (1998)
  • So Damn Happy (2003)
  • This Christmas (2008)
  • A Woman Falling Out of Love (2010)
  • 2014: Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics
  • 2017: A Brand New Me

Live albums

  • Aretha in Paris (1968)
  • Aretha Live at the Fillmore West (1971)
  • Amazing Grace (1972)
  • 1987: One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism
  • Don’t Fight the Feeling: Live at Fillmore West (with King Curtis) (2005)
  • Oh Me, Oh My: Aretha Live in Philly (2007)


  • The Blues Brothers (1980)
  • 1998: Blues Brothers 2000
  • Immaculate Funk (2000)
  • Tom Dowd & the Language of Music (2003)
  • 2003: Singing in the Shadow: The Children of Rock Royalty (documentary)
  • 2019: Amazing Grace (documentary by Sydney Pollack)


Support for Black Lives Matter

In 2020, a solo version of her duet with Mary J. Blige Never going to Break My Faith was released. The song is accompanied by a music video showing protests from the civil rights era to the present day. The song was released in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and in response to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. She sings:

My Lord, won’t you help them to understand when someone takes the life of an innocent man well they’ve never really won, cuz all they’ve really done is set the soul free — where it’s supposed to be.
Lord, won’t you help them understand that when they take the life of an innocent man, they never really won, because all they really did was free his soul—where it is supposed to be.”


Her songs are regularly performed on The Voice shows around the world. Her most covered songs are Respect, (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, I Say a Little Prayer, Ain’t No Way, Chain of Fools and Think.

The Divaz participates in the Destination Eurovision competition in 2019 with the song La Voix d’Aretha. The group lost in the final, the public having voted for Bilal Hassani.

Aretha Franklin’s Musical influence

Jean-Jacques Goldman says that it was thanks to  Aretha Franklin’s song Think that he decided to become a singer, and singer Adele presents her as his favorite singer.

In film and television

In 2021, National Geographic dedicates its third season of the series Genius to him, succeeding Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso. The singer is played by Cynthia Erivo.

That same year, the biopic Respect, starring Jennifer Hudson as Aretha, was released.

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