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Aretha Louise Franklin (born March 25, 1942) is an American singer, songwriter and pianist commonly referred to as "The Queen of Soul". Although renowned for her soul recordings, Franklin is also adept at jazz, rock, soul, blues, pop, R&B and Gospel music. In 2008, the American music magazine Rolling Stone ranked Franklin #1 on its list of The Greatest Singers of All Time.
Franklin is one of the most honored artists by the Grammy Awards, with 18 Grammys to date, which include the Living Legend Grammy and the Lifetime Achievement Grammy. She has scored a total of 20 #1 singles on the Billboard R&B Singles Chart, one of which also became her first #1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100: "Respect" (1967). "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)" (1987), a duet with George Michael, became her second #1 on the latter chart. Since 1961, Franklin has scored a total of 45 "Top 40" hits on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
In 1987, Franklin became the first female artist to be entered into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Franklin was the only featured singer at the 2009 Presidential inauguration ceremony for Barack Obama.
Early life and career
Franklin was born in Memphis, Tennessee to Rev. C. L. Franklin, a famous Baptist minister, and Barbara Siggers Franklin, a singer and pianist. In addition to Aretha the couple had four more children, Erma, Carolyn, Cecil, and Vaughn (Barbara Franklin's son by a previous relationship, whom C.L. adopted). Franklin's parents had a troubled relationship and separated for the final time when Aretha was six, leaving her and her siblings to be raised by their paternal grandmother, Rachel Franklin (known as 'Big Momma'), as well as numerous female family friends who regularly visited the home, including Clara Ward and Mahalia Jackson.
Aretha was a self-taught piano prodigy and her extraordinary vocal gifts were manifest by the time she entered her teens. At the age of fourteen, she recorded her first album for JVB/Battle Records, where her father recorded his sermons and gospel vocal recordings, and she issued Songs Of Faith in 1956. Her earliest influences included Clara Ward and Mahalia Jackson, and Aretha has noted in her autobiography that her early gospel singing was patterned after Albertina Walker's Caravans, as she worked under the direction of gospel legend and Franklin family friend James Cleveland.
Early motherhood derailed Franklin's gospel career, and when she returned to singing, she decided to secure herself a deal as a pop artist. After being offered contracts from Motown and RCA, Franklin signed with Columbia Records in 1960. Her recordings during that time reflected a jazz influence and moved away from her gospel roots. Franklin initially scored a few hits on Columbia including her version of "Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody", which peaked at number 37 on the Billboard Pop Singles chart in 1961, and the Top 10 R&B hits, "Today I Sing The Blues", "Won't Be Long" and "Operation Heartbreak". However, by the end of 1966, with little commercial success in six years with Columbia and desperate for a sound of her own, she accepted an offer to sign with Atlantic Records and work with the late producer Jerry Wexler. According to Franklin years later, "they made me sit down on the piano and the hits came".
"Soul Sister #1"
In 1967 Franklin issued her first Atlantic single, "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)", a blues ballad that introduced listeners to her gospel style. Produced by Jerry Wexler, the song became Franklin's breakthrough single reaching the Top 10 on the Hot 100, and holding the #1 spot for 7 weeks on Billboard's R&B Singles chart. The B-side, "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man", charted on the R&B side, and introduced a more gospel element to Franklin's developing sound.
Her next single, "Respect", written and originally recorded by Otis Redding, firmly launched Franklin on the road to superstardom. Franklin's feminist version of the song became her signature tune for life, reaching #1 on both the R&B and the Pop charts—holding the top spot on the former chart for a record 8 weeks and helping her Atlantic debut album, I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You, reach million-seller status. In the next ten months, Franklin released a number of top ten hits including "Baby I Love You", "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" and "Chain of Fools".
In early 1968 Franklin won her first two Grammies (for "Respect"), including the first Grammy awarded in the "Best Female R&B Vocal Performance" category. She went on to win eight "Best Female R&B Vocal Performance" awards in a row. Over the next seven years, Franklin continued to score hit singles including "Think", "The House That Jack Built", "I Say a Little Prayer" (a cover of Dionne Warwick's hit), "Call Me" and "Don't Play That Song (You Lied)". "Spanish Harlem" reached #2 on Billboard's Hot 100 and even gave Franklin her first Top 10 Adult Contemporary (at the time labeled Easy Listening) hit.
By the end of the 1960s, Franklin's position as Soul Sister #1 was firmly established. Her albums were also hot sellers; one in particular, 1972's Amazing Grace, eventually sold over two million US copies, becoming "the best-selling gospel album of all time". Franklin's hit streak continued into the mid-1970s. 1973's emotional plea "Angel", produced by Quincy Jones and written by Franklin's sister Carolyn, was a stand-out single that became yet another #1 on the R&B chart, although the subsequent album Hey Now Hey (The Other Side of the Sky) was not successful.
1974's gold-certified single "Until You Come Back to Me (That's What I'm Gonna Do)" hit #1 R&B and #3 Pop. With this single, Franklin became the first artist to have a hit peak at each position from #1 - #10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart (the others are Marvin Gaye and Madonna-- Elton John comes close but has never had a #10 single). By 1975, however, with the expanding exposure of Disco and the popularity of fellow Atlantic artist Roberta Flack, relations between Franklin and Atlantic Records had become strained. Jerry Wexler left the company during this time as well. As a result, Franklin was recording poor material such as 1975's listless You album, and her record sales declined dramatically. Franklin had peaked, and the music industry was moving on to younger black female singers such as Natalie Cole, Chaka Khan and Donna Summer.
Return To Prominence
After several years of failed recordings, Franklin's career was given a much-needed boost in 1980 by a cameo performance as Mrs. Matt Murphy in The Blues Brothers, singing 'Think'. That same year Clive Davis signed Franklin to his Arista Records. The singles "United Together" and "Love All The Hurt Away"—a duet with George Benson—returned her to the Top 10 on the Billboard R&B Singles chart. But it was the spectacular 1982 album, Jump To It, produced by the late Luther Vandross, and the title-track single that gave Franklin her first R&B chart-topping and pop success since "(Giving Him) Something He Can Feel". The album enjoyed a seven consecutive week run at #1 on Billboard's R&B Albums chart (even the Zoomin' album only reached #3). It won an American Music Award (along with several other nominations), was nominated for a Grammy and was certified Gold in early 1983 - Franklin's first gold disc since the 1976 Sparkle album.
The following year Franklin and Vandross collaborated again on the disappointing Get It Right. But in 1985, Franklin's sound was commercialized into a glossy pop sound as she experienced her biggest selling album to date, Who's Zoomin' Who? Yielding smash hits like the Motown-influenced "Freeway of Love" (#3 Pop/#1 R&B), the title track (#7 Pop/#2 R&B), and her duet with rock duo Eurythmics, "Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves" (#18 Pop/#66 R&B), the album became the first Platinum certification of Franklin's entire career, introducing her sound to a younger generation of fans. In 1986, Franklin did nearly as well with an album simply titled Aretha, which yielded her first #1 Pop single in two decades with the George Michael duet, "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)". The album is noteworthy for the striking cover which was Andy Warhol's last work before his death. Other hits from the album included her cover of The Rolling Stones' "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and the girl group-inspired "Jimmy Lee". When Aretha was taken out of print, it had sold over 900,000 US copies.
Franklin returned to gospel in 1987 with her album One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism which was recorded live at her New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit. However, the disc was a far cry from her 1972 effort Amazing Grace and had middling sales. Follow-ups such as 1989's Through The Storm and 1991's What You See Is What You Sweat sold poorly and failed to produce any major mainstream hits—other than the former album's Elton John-featured title track—but her career got a slight boost in 1993 when she scored a dance-club hit with "Deeper Love" from the Sister Act 2: Back In The Habit soundtrack. In 1994, she scored another hit with the Babyface-produced ballad, "Willing To Forgive", which hit the Top 5 of Billboard's R&B chart and #26 on the Hot 100.
Franklin returned to prominence with her 1998 album, A Rose Is Still A Rose. The album's mixture of Urban Contemporary, Hip-Hop and Soul was a departure from Franklin's previous material. The title track, produced by Lauryn Hill, gave her a smash hit on the R&B and Pop charts and earned a Gold single while the album was certified Gold as well - the first time since 1986's Aretha that any of the singer's studio albums reached 500,000 units in US sales. That same year, with less than thirty minutes  to prepare, Franklin stepped in for Luciano Pavarotti to sing "Nessun Dorma" at the 1998 Grammy Awards. (Pavarotti, who was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award that night, was too sick to attend.) She gave a soulful and highly improvised performance in the aria's original key, while firmly stamping out the year with a captivating performance during VH-1's "Divas Live" telecast.
Following the success of A Rose Is Still A Rose, Franklin has continued recording if only sporadically. Her most recent full studio release was 2003's So Damn Happy, an already out-of-print sales failure which included the Grammy-winning track "Wonderful". Shortly after its release, Franklin left Arista Records after twenty-three years with the company. Shortly afterward Aretha announced plans for her own Detroit-based hometown label, 'Aretha Records'. However, there has been no subsequent activity. A long-delayed new album, A Woman Falling Out Of Love has been indefinitely shelved. Franklin was also holding auditions in Detroit for a proposed musical based on her 1999 autobiography, From These Roots. The project has gone dormant since Aretha could not secure financial backing for it.
In 1998, Franklin also took again her role of Mrs. Murphy in Blues Brothers 2000, this time singing her old hit "Respect". Like in the 1980 movie, she plays the possessive wife of the lead guitarist of the Blues Brothers Band, singing the song during a row with her husband about his joining his former band.
In 2007, Arista Records released a duets compilation album entitled, "Jewels In The Crown: All-Star Duets With The Queen." The disc features duets performed with Mariah Carey, Luther Vandross, Whitney Houston, Richard Marx, Annie Lennox, John Legend, Mary J. Blige, Frank Sinatra, George Michael, George Benson, Fantasia, and Gloria Estefan. A duet with Faith Hill was recorded but does not appear on the album. The album includes two new recordings with Fantasia, on the lead single "Put You Up On Game" and John Legend. The lead single "Put You Up On Game" hit radio on October 1, 2007 and became the number one most added song on Urban AC radio the following week. The album also includes Franklin's historic rendition of "Nessun Dorma" from the 1998 Grammy telecast.
In 2008, Franklin was honored as MusiCares "Person of the Year," two days prior to the 50th Annual Grammy Awards, where she was awarded her 18th career Grammy. Post-Grammy's, Miss Franklin criticized Beyoncé Knowles, due to the fact that Knowles introduced Tina Turner as 'The Queen' prior to their duet of Proud Mary.
Franklin's son Clarence was born when she was 14 years old and at age 16 she gave birth to her son Edward. She has never identified the fathers of either of her two eldest children nor the circumstances of her childhood pregnancies. Aretha's grandmother, Rachel, who lived in a guest house behind her father's LaSalle Street home, raised Aretha's sons while she pursued her singing career. The Franklin family moved from their North End home on Boston Street to LaSalle during the late 1950s.
Against her father's wishes she began dating Ted White, her road manager. The two share the same birthday - March 25. In 1961 while on tour, they married in between performances. White then became her personal manager as well as co-writer. Aretha purchased a house on Sorrento Avenue in northwest Detroit shortly afterward where she resided for the next decade. Their son, Ted White, Jr. was born in 1964. Aretha and Ted divorced in 1969. Teddy, Jr. is her musical director and guitarist of Franklin's touring band. From 1969-1976 Franklin had a seven year relationship with her road manager Ken Cunningham. In the early 1970s the couple moved from Detroit to New York City, at which time Aretha's grandmother moved into her Sorrento Avenue home. Their son Kecalf (pronounced 'kelf'; the initials of his parents' names: Kenneth E Cunningham Aretha Louise Franklin) was born on March 28, 1970. In 1978 she married Cooley High/A Different World actor Glynn Turman at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit. Aretha's father performed the marriage ceremony. The couple then returned to their home in Encino, California. In late 1982 Franklin returned to Detroit for the purpose of spending the holidays with her bed-ridden father as well as her other family members. Several months later, her 'fear of flying' phobia occurred. She was subsequently thwarted from returning to California and as a result she and Turman divorced in early 1984. Despite the divorce she and Turman remained friends and he was instrumental in Franklin being contracted to sing the theme song for his show [[A Different World]] from 1988-1992. While White had been 11 years older than Franklin, Cunningham and Turman were both several years her junior.
Franklin's two youngest sons, Ted Jr. and Kecalf, are active in the music business.
Aretha's parents are both deceased, as are her siblings Erma, Cecil, and Carolyn. Her only surviving siblings are half-siblings Vaughn (Barbara Franklin's son from a relationship before her marriage), who sometimes travels with Aretha, and Carl Ellan Kelley (née Jennings; born in 1940), C.L. Franklin's daughter by Mildred Jennings, a congregant of New Salem Baptist Church of Memphis, Tennessee where C.L. was pastor in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
Aretha is godmother of music superstar Whitney Houston. A still image of Franklin was shown in the closing scene of Houston's 1985 video for the single "How Will I Know".
In September 2002 Franklin's $2 million home in Bloomfield, Michigan burned to the ground. Her son, Edward, was found in the bushes adjacent to the residence smelling of flammable liquids and was taken into police custody. An investigation revealed that arson was the cause with the fire being started in three different locations inside the house. Ultimately no official charges were filed.
Awards and achievements
Franklin has won eighteen (18) Grammy Awards in total during her nearly half-century long career (she first charted in 1961), and holds the record for most Best Female R&B Vocal Performance awards with eleven to her name (including eight consecutive awards from 1968 to 1975 - the first eight awarded in that category).
*According to NARAS Rules: 'Special' Grammy Awards (such as Lifetime Achievement) are not counted in a performer's tally.
Top 10 US Hot 100 singles
TV Talkshow Music Appearances