Aretha franklin younger pictures

How Early Motherhood Led Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin to a ‘Life of Silent Suffering’

Among the mysteries of Aretha Franklin’s life and her preference for “extreme privacy,” her role as a mother was one the superstar typically kept private.

The Queen of Soul, who died Thursday at the age of 76, had four children — her first, at only 14 years old.

“She had a tough childhood,” David Ritz, who wrote multiple biographies on Franklin’s life told PEOPLE before her death.

The “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” singer’s childhood was marked by the separation of her mother Barbara and her father Clarence LaVaughn, whom she named her oldest son after, according to Respect, Ritz’s book on Franklin’s life.

Image zoom Aretha Franklin (center), her father Clarence LaVaughn and her sister Carolyn Anthony Barboza/Getty

RELATED: Teen Motherhood, Losing Her Dad and Her Quiet Health Battle: Aretha Franklin’s Personal Struggles

Franklin’s mother left the family when the singer was only 6 years old because of her husband’s infidelity. “She put out a picture of her having a happy home and happy children and everything was rosy, and any stories to the contrary really got her mad,” ghostwriter Ritz previously told PEOPLE.

While she never publicly confirmed who fathered her older children, Ritz revealed in his book that the father of her oldest son, Clarence, 63, was Donald Burke, whom Franklin knew from school.

“Aretha went back to school after having Clarence,” the musical icon’s sister Erma said in Respect. “She was an excellent student who did well in all her classes.”

Image zoom Aretha Franklin and son Edward Larry French/BET/Getty

In 1957, Franklin welcomed her second child, Edward, who turns 61 this month. Franklin would then drop out of school to focus on her musical career, leading her to live a life of “silent suffering,” as her sister Erma describes in Respect.

RELATED VIDEO: Beyoncé and JAY-Z Dedicate Their Concert to Aretha Franklin: ‘We Love You’

“We were part of that generation of young female singers who definitely sacrificed time with our kids to attend to our careers. We did so knowingly,” Franklin’s eldest sister said in the book. “We also did so with heavy guilt.”

Care of her two eldest children fell heavily to “Big Mama,” Franklin’s grandmother, according to the 2015 biography of Franklin’s life.

“I still wanted to get out and hang out with my friends,” she told Ebony in 1995 of young motherhood. “I wanted to be in two places at the same time. But my grandmother helped me a lot, and my sister and my cousin. They would babysit so I could get out occasionally.”

At 19, Franklin married Ted White, and had a son with him, named Ted “Teddy” White, Jr., 54.

Ted and the singer divorced in 1969 after reports of domestic abuse surfaced, and a 1968 Time article described how White “roughed her up” more than once.

RELATED PHOTOS: Remembering the Queen of Soul: Aretha Franklin’s Life in Pictures

White, Jr. would go on to play backup guitar for Franklin before pursuing his own musical career under the name Teddy Richards.

Franklin’s youngest son, Kecalf, 48, was born in 1970. His name is an acronym of both his father and mother’s full names — Ken E. Cunningham (the star’s road manager) and Aretha Louise Franklin.

Image zoom Aretha Franklin with son Kecalf and granddaughter Victorie. Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic

RELATED: Remember Aretha Franklin with the Queen of Soul’s Top 10 Greatest Songs

Franklin died on Thursday at the age of 76 after battling pancreatic cancer, her publicist confirmed to PEOPLE.

“We have lost the matriarch and rock of our family,” the singer’s family wrote in a statement. “The love she had for her children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and cousins knew no bounds.

“We have been deeply touched by the incredible outpouring of love and support we have received from close friends, supporters and fans all around the world,” the family wrote. “Thank you for your compassion and prayers. We have felt your love for Aretha and it brings us comfort to know that her legacy will live on. As we grieve, we ask that you respect our privacy during this difficult time.”

Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin


Aretha Louise Franklin
March 25, 1942
Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.


August 16, 2018 (aged 76)
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.

Cause of death

Pancreatic cancer



Ted White (m. 1961–1969)
Glynn Turman (m. 1978–1984)


Musical career


Detroit, Michigan, U.S.



Years active



Associated acts

Early life and career: 1942–60

Aretha Franklin’s birthplace at 406 Lucy Ave. in Memphis, Tennessee

Aretha Louise Franklin was born at a two-room house in Memphis located at 406 Lucy St. She was the third of four children born to Barbara (née Siggers) and C.L. Franklin and the fifth of six overall in between past relationships by her parents. Franklin’s family moved to Buffalo, when Franklin was two, and then by four, had settled in Detroit. Following the move to Detroit, Franklin’s parents, who had a troubled marriage, split. Due to her father’s work as a Baptist minister, Franklin was primarily raised by her grandmother, Rachel. Franklin suffered a tragedy when her mother died in Buffalo when Aretha was ten. Franklin sang in church at an early age and learned how to play piano by ear. By her late preteens, Franklin was regularly singing solo numbers in her father’s New Bethel Baptist Church. Franklin’s father, C.L. (short for Clarence LaVaughn), was a respected and popular preacher. Franklin grew up with local and national celebrities hanging out at her father’s home including gospel greats Albertina Walker and her group The Caravans, Mahalia Jackson and Clara Ward, three women who played a pivotal role in her vocal development as a child.

Later life: 1961–2018

Franklin married Ted White in 1961 but divorced him in 1969. She had four sons.


Franklin is one of the most honored artists by the Grammy Awards, with 18 competitive Grammys and two honorary Grammys. She had 20 #1 singles on the Billboard R&B Singles Chart and two #1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100: “Respect” (1967) and “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” (1987), a duet with George Michael. Since 1961, she had a total of 45 Top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100. She also had 14 singles that sold more than one million – more than any other female artist. Between 1967 and 1982 she had 10 #1 R&B albums – more than any other female artist.

Rolling Stone magazine ranked her at top of its list “The Greatest Singers of All Time” In 2005, she was awarded The Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush. On February 6, 2006, she performed, along with Aaron Neville, “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Super Bowl XL. The same year she got an honorary Doctor of Music degree by the Berklee College of Music.2010, Franklin received an Honorary Doctorate in Music from Yale University.

In 1987, Franklin became the first female artist to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She was the only featured singer at the 2009 presidential inauguration of Barack Obama.


In 2010, Franklin underwent cancer surgery for purported pancreatic cancer. In 2013, she cancelled two tours due to an unknown illness.

In 2017, Franklin cancelled many concerts due to an unknown illness. She asked her fans to keep her in their prayers.

Final illness and death

On August 13, 2018, Franklin was reported to be gravely ill at her home near Detroit. She was reported to be under hospice care and surrounded by friends and family. Stevie Wonder and Jesse Jackson, among others, had visited her. Franklin died at home in Detroit on August 16, aged 76. The cause was reported to be advanced pancreatic cancer.

Grammy Awards

Aretha Franklin’s 18 Grammy Award Wins
# Year Category Genre Title
1 1968 Best Rhythm & Blues Recording R&B Respect
2 1968 Best Female R&B Vocal Performance R&B Respect
3 1969 Best Female R&B Vocal Performance R&B Chain Of Fools
4 1970 Best Female R&B Vocal Performance R&B Share Your Love With Me
5 1971 Best Female R&B Vocal Performance R&B Don’t Play That Song For Me
6 1972 Best Female R&B Vocal Performance R&B Bridge Over Troubled Water
7 1973 Best Female R&B Vocal Performance R&B Young, Gifted and Black (album)
8 1973 Best Soul Gospel Performance Gospel Amazing Grace (album)
9 1974 Best Female R&B Vocal Performance R&B Master Of Eyes
10 1975 Best Female R&B Vocal Performance R&B Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing
11 1982 Best Female R&B Vocal Performance R&B Hold On…I’m Comin’ (album track)
12 1986 Best Female R&B Vocal Performance R&B Freeway Of Love
13 1988 Best Female R&B Vocal Performance R&B Aretha (album)
14 1988 Best R&B Performance – Duo Or Group with Vocals R&B I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) (with George Michael)
15 1989 Best Soul Gospel Performance – Female Gospel One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism (album)
* 1991 Living Legend Award Special
* 1994 Lifetime Achievement Award Special
16 2004 Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance R&B Wonderful
17 2006 Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance R&B A House Is Not A Home
18 2008 Best Gospel-Soul Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group Gospel Never Gonna Break My Faith (with Mary J. Blige)


Main page: Aretha Franklin discography Top 10 US Hot 100 singles

If the Great Migration could be condensed into a single personal narrative, it might be Aretha Franklin’s. Born in 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee, to a traveling, womanizing preacher and a gospel-singing mother, Franklin was whisked north by the same currents that brought millions of black souls to the great industrial and financial centers of the country. Settling with her father in Detroit, she received just about as formal a training in gospel music as was possible back then, singing in her father’s church and on revival tours, and learning from Mahalia Jackson, who stopped in to check on the Franklin household at times.

Aretha Franklin at a news conference on March 26, 1973 ASSOCIATED PRESS At 18, Franklin cast off the gospel and embarked on a pop career that would span nearly six decades, spawn a legion of hits, garner countless awards, and see her enshrined as the Queen of an art she helped build. Fifty years ago, she received an award for excellence from Martin Luther King Jr. Four years later, she sang “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” his favorite song, at Mahalia Jackson’s funeral. Almost four decades after that, Franklin serenaded President Barack Obama and the rest of the country with “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” at his inauguration. There were generations in her church hat.

Franklin’s 76 years on Earth bookended a grand arc of tumult, letdowns, progress, setbacks, terror, and hope in American history. That in itself might not be a remarkable feat so much as a reminder that all black people older than 53 have seen and lived through hell. But Aretha—and that first name is sufficient, as it was in black churches and parlors for half a century—was an architect of a movement as much as a witness to it. She toured with the actors Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier to raise money for King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1967, when the organization was in dire financial straits and was attempting to embark on a Poor People’s Campaign. She was an activist who strained to keep a movement going even after King’s assassination, and who worked to support the Black Panthers and attempted to post bail to free the activist Angela Davis from jail. She loved black people. In this country, that simple fact was radical enough.

And now Aretha is dead.

It seems we are burying more and more of the old royalty these days. That’s the way of the world, and in the liberative and redemptive tradition of the Black Gospel, the passings of the elders are ultimate moments of freedom and joy as much as times for sadness. But still, Aretha’s death is a loss, and it should prompt reflection. What does it mean to bury the Queen of Soul?

Aside from the revivals that come about every few years, soul is mostly a thing Americans look back on and remember fondly. In recalling a romantic and powerful era of American history, soul is a bit like Latin: an inert progenitor language once spoken by people who somehow seemed larger and more full of life than the models made today. In Aretha’s runs, Sam’s grandeur, Otis’s gravelly urgency, and the splendor of Stax horns, there’s some element of impossibility to a youngish observer like myself. It’s as if the exodus that produced Aretha became music itself, and for a time produced songs and sounds that can be approached, but never truly replicated.

Part of that uniqueness comes from the fact that soul was also so tightly tied to uprising. More than just a temporal coinciding of a popular trend with the civil-rights movement, soul was another corridor of the movement. If spirituals, jazz, gospel, blues, and R&B were the first musical conduits of black resistance, soul proved to be the conduit when that resistance finally broke through.

Both the civil-rights movement and soul have often been critically misunderstood. The contributions of women—in particular the vibrant organizing for sexual autonomy and freedom from gender violence that built the organizing arms of the black freedom movement—are often elided in civil-rights histories centered on a handful of great men. And historians of soul often focus heavily on the difficult and prominent men at its forefront, on the (perceived) electric masculine energies of Delta guitars and rock covers. But Aretha stood as a corrective to both, and tied them together. Her activist drive proved effective when the money ran dry. Her canon of anthems encompassed racial, gender, and sexual freedom, and properly located the hard knot of women at the center of the movement. Her complete mastery of gospel located one of the taproots of soul in the choirs, and with the hundreds of women powerhouses in their ranks who—unlike her—had never been allowed to pursue careers in the secular world.

Aretha proved to be a capable monarch. At her zenith, her main power was in transformation, in taking less potent songs and breathing fire into them. Through sheer force of will, she transformed Otis Redding’s “Respect” from a pleading ballad to a civil-rights staple, a slogan for struggles at the intersection of blackness and womanhood that predated the famous “I Am a Man” signs of the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike. Her barn-burning single “Think,” with its chants of “Freedom” during the bridge, continued on the theme. Just a few months after King’s death, Aretha commandeered Dionne Warwick’s “I Say a Little Prayer,” a composition that the jazz artist Roland Kirk would himself commandeer a year later and fashion into an explicit tribute to King.

Those transformations are what made soul what it was, as well. The literal meaning of the genre’s name speaks to its purpose. That purpose was taking the animus of a divine creator from gospel and pouring it into the music of the world. It took the black experience, with all its urgency and certainty of overcoming, and transliterated it into the vernacular. Soul was and is a revolutionary art, and Aretha belongs in the broader conversation about this country’s revolutionary heroes with any provocateur or patriot who ever lived.


THE Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin passed away earlier this year, in August 2018 aged 76 from pancreatic cancer.

She was one of the most successful American singers of all time and the first ever woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But what about her family life? Here is the lowdown…

2 Franklin was a favourite of Barack Obama’s and performed at his inauguration ceremonyCredit: This content is subject to copyright.

Who are her children?

Aretha had four children.

Her first son was born in 1955 and is called Clarence. He took her second name.

Two years later her second son was born, to a different father, and called Edward.

Then after marrying Ted White, she had a third son, Teddy White Jr.

Aretha’s youngest son Kecalf was born in 1970 – his name is an acronym of both his father and mother’s full names — Ken E. Cunningham (the star’s road manager) and Aretha Louise Franklin.

2 Aretha and familyCredit: This content is subject to copyright.

How old was she when they were born?

Aretha was just 12 when she had her first child.

According to biographer David Ritz, the father of her oldest son, Clarence, 63, was Donald Burke, whom Franklin knew from school.

Two years later aged 14 she welcomed Edward – the son of Edward Jordan.

She married her first husband Ted White aged 19 and gave birth to Ted Jr at 25.

Aretha had her last son aged 28 in 1970 – the son of her tour manager Ken Cunnigham

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Where are they now?

Neither of her two eldest children followed in her footsteps musically but her third son Ted Jr is a successful singer and guitarist.

He has released three albums and has played at several of his mother’s concerts as well as being the opening act for acts such as Seal, The Verve Pipe and INXS.

The youngest Kecalf Cunningham is a Christian rapper.

He also performed with his mother and their most notable performance was a 2008 concert at the Radio City Music Hall.

American soul singer Aretha Franklin passes aged 76 following her battle with cancer


Aretha Franklin (March 25, 1942-August 16, 2018) was born to C.L. (Clarence LaVaughn) Franklin and Barbara Siggers. C.L. and Barbara married in 1936. C.L. adopted her infant son, Vaughn and the couple had four children: Erma, Cecil, Aretha, and Carolyn. Although they were both from Sunflower County in the Mississippi Delta, they settled down in Memphis, Tennessee. As he worked to establish himself as a itinerant preacher, C.L. also worked as a migrant farmworker. His mother, Rachel Franklin and stepfather Henry Franklin, had done the same.

Aretha Louise – one of the couple’s four children was named after C.L.’s two sisters. She was born in Memphis, where C.L. Franklin had become pastor of the New Salem church. C.L.’s fame grew during WWII and he began to deliver weekly radio sermons that are believed to be the first ever directly broadcast from the pulpit. In 1944, Franklin accepted the pastorship of the Greater Friendship Baptist Church in Buffalo, NY and two years later moved his family to Detroit to take over at the New Bethel Baptist Church.

In 1948, his marriage to Barbara ended. Barbara took Vaughn and moved to Buffalo, NY where her mother lived. Aretha and her siblings stayed with their father. Barbara visited her children in Detroit and they spent summers with their mother. In 1952, Barbara died from a fatal heart attack. She was 34-years-old. As C.L. became gospel’s first touring preacher, his mother Rachel and a series of housekeepers cared for the Franklin children.

Rachel Pittman Franklin (March 15, 1897) was known to her grandchildren as ‘Big Mama.’ The Pittman’s had a long history in the Mississippi Delta. Rachel’s parents were both born slaves on cotton plantations. Following slavery, Rachel’s parents worked the land and raised their four children. Rachel’s father Elijah Pittman was also a pastor. Aretha’s paternal grandmother lost both her parents by the time she was 17. She had also fallen in love, married, and become a mother by then (Salvatore 2005). “A few short years later, Rachel lost her husband as well (4).” The couple had their first child, Clarence LaVaughn in 1915. Rachel carried her baby with her into the fields as she picked cotton. Willie Walker and Rachel had another baby before Willie was drafted to serve in WWI. Shortly after returning from the war, he left his family. Rachel struggled to raise two children under 5 alone. As a single mother in her 20s, Rachel relocated in search of better work opportunities. She met and married Henry Franklin in 1920. Their first child and Rachel’s third was named Aretha. Rachel stayed with Henry until his death in the 1950s. During this time, her son began to travel for work. Rachel moved to Detroit and helped care for her grandchildren. And when her granddaughter Aretha had her first child at 13 and second child at 15, along with Aretha’s sister Erma, Rachel cared for great-grandchildren so that her granddaughter could tend to her skyrocketing career.


Salvatore, Nick. 2005. Singing in a Strange Land: C. L. Franklin, the Black Church, and the Transformation of America. Little, Brown and Company.

(Photo Credits- Erma Franklin)

(Featured photograph-Cecil, Rachel, C.L. and Erma Franklin, Cousin Brenda)

(Embedded photo-Rachel, C.L. and Carolyn Franklin in the 1960s)

Santa Monica Observer – Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

Aretha Franklin has died of cancer in hospice at 76 years of age. The “Queen of Soul” was surrounded by family and friends as she passed quietly. She will be memorialized at a service on Friday.

While she is remembered for a string of hits in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s, younger fans perhaps remember her for singing at the inauguration of Barack Obama on January 20, 2009.

A relative who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the person was not allowed to publicly talk about the topic, told The Associated Press on Monday that Franklin is seriously ill. No diagnosis was provided.

The Queen of Soul canceled planned concerts earlier this year after she was ordered by her doctor to stay off the road and rest up.

Last year, the 76-year-old icon announced her plans to retire, saying she would perform at “some select things.”

Aretha Louise Franklin was born on March 22, 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee, to Barbara (née Siggers) and Clarence LaVaughn “C. L.” Franklin. Her father was an itinerant preacher originally from Shelby, Mississippi, while her mother was an accomplished piano player and vocalist.

Alongside Franklin, her parents had three other children, and both C. L. and Barbara also had children from outside their marriage. The family relocated to Buffalo, New York when Franklin was two. Before her fifth birthday, C. L. Franklin permanently relocated the family to Detroit, Michigan where he took over the pastorship of New Bethel Baptist Church. Franklin’s parents had a troubled marriage due to stories of C. L. Franklin’s philandering and in 1948, they separated, with Barbara relocating back to Buffalo with her son, Vaughn, from a previous relationship.

Aretha Louise Franklin began her career as a child singing gospel at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, where her father, C. L. Franklin, was minister. In 1960, at the age of 18, she embarked on a secular career, recording for Columbia Records but only achieving modest success. Following her signing to Atlantic Records in 1967, Franklin achieved commercial acclaim and success with songs such as “Respect”, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”, “Spanish Harlem” and “Think”. By the end of the 1960s she had gained the title “The Queen of Soul”.

Contrary to popular notion, Franklin’s mother did not abandon her children; not only would Franklin recall seeing her mother in Buffalo during the summer, Barbara also frequently visited her children in Detroit. Franklin’s mother died on March 7, 1952, before Franklin’s tenth birthday. Several women, including Franklin’s grandmother Rachel, and Mahalia Jackson took turns helping with the children at the Franklin home. During this time, Franklin learned how to play piano by ear.

Franklin’s father’s emotionally driven sermons resulted in his being known as the man with the “million-dollar voice” and earning thousands of dollars for sermons in various churches across the country.

Franklin’s dad’s celebrity status led to his home being visited by various celebrities including gospel musicians Clara Ward, James Cleveland and early Caravans members Albertina Walker and Inez Andrews as well as Martin Luther King, Jr., Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke. Franklin attended Northern High School but later dropped out during her sophomore year.

Aretha Franklin eventually recorded a total of 112 charted singles on Billboard, including 77 Hot 100 entries, 17 top ten pop singles, 100 R&B entries and twenty number-one R&B singles, becoming the most charted female artist in the chart’s history. Franklin also recorded acclaimed albums such as I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, Lady Soul, Young, Gifted and Black and Amazing Grace before experiencing problems with her record company by the mid-1970s.

After her father was shot in 1979, Franklin left Atlantic and signed with Arista Records, finding success with her part in the film The Blues Brothers and with the albums Jump to It and Who’s Zoomin’ Who?.

Franklin has won a total of 18 Grammy Awards and is one of the best-selling musical artists of all time, having sold over 75 million records worldwide. Franklin has been honored throughout her career including a 1987 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in which she became the first female performer to be inducted. She was inducted to the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005. In August 2012, Franklin was inducted into the GMA Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Franklin is listed in at least two all-time lists on Rolling Stone magazine, including the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time; and the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.

In January 1961, Columbia issued Franklin’s first secular album, Aretha: With The Ray Bryant Combo. The album featured her first single to chart the Billboard Hot 100, “Won’t Be Long”, which also peaked at number 7 on the R&B chart. Mostly produced by Clyde Otis, Franklin’s Columbia recordings saw her recording in diverse genres such as standards, vocal jazz, blues, doo-wop and rhythm and blues. Before the year was out, Franklin scored her first top 40 single with her rendition of the standard, “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody”, which also included the R&B hit, “Operation Heartbreak”, on its b-side. “Rock-a-Bye” became her first international hit, reaching the top 40 in Australia and Canada. By the end of 1961, Franklin was named as a “new-star female vocalist” in Down Beat magazine. In 1962, Columbia issued two more albums, The Electrifying Aretha Franklin and The Tender, the Moving, the Swinging Aretha Franklin, the latter of which charted at number 69 on the Billboard Pop LPs chart.

By 1964, Franklin began recording more pop music, reaching the top ten on the R&B chart with the ballad, “Runnin’ Out of Fools” in early 1965. She had two R&B charted singles in 1965 and 1966 with the songs “One Step Ahead” and “Cry Like a Baby” while also reaching the Easy Listening charts with the ballads “You Made Me Love You” and “(No, No) I’m Losing You”. By the mid-1960s, Franklin was netting $100,000 from countless performances in nightclubs and theaters.

Also during that period, Franklin appeared on rock and roll shows such as Hollywood A Go-Go and Shindig!. However, it was argued that Franklin’s potential was neglected at the label. Columbia executive John H. Hammond later said he felt Columbia did not understand Franklin’s early gospel background and failed to bring that aspect out further during her Columbia period.

Getty Aretha Franklin’s family includes four sons.

Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, was surrounded by family as she lay gravely ill.

Franklin has now died after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

Aretha’s family includes four children. Her childhood combined the talents of both parents as her mother, too, was a gospel singer and Aretha got her start in her father’s Baptist church. She would carry those sounds with her, enriching them with her powerful and soaring voice. However, her family was also ruptured by infidelity, divorce, and abandonment, according to an author who chronicled her life story.

Daily Mail reported on August 12, 2018 that Aretha was “gravely ill” at the age of 76. She had been in failing health for some time, cancelling a series of concerts in summer 2017 upon the order of her physician. Showbiz 411 reported on August 12 that Aretha’s family had requested prayers and privacy and were with her in Detroit, Michigan.

Here’s what you need to know:

1. Aretha Franklin’s Father Was a Well-Known Preacher


Aretha Franklin’s sound derives, in part, from her childhood, and her father’s role as a preacher.

According to, Aretha’s dad was Reverend Clarence La Vaughan “C. L.” Franklin, who was a Baptist preacher. Aretha was born in Memphis, Tennessee and raised in a childhood environment steeped in gospel.

Aretha’s first singing audience came in her father’s church, reported, noting that her father moved to Detroit, Michigan during her early years after her parents separated and her mother died of a heart attack. Her father was a public figure, especially in Detroit, for his preaching abilities.

In fact, Aretha’s teenage songs were later released as an album called Songs of Faith in 1956.

David Ritz, the author of a book about Aretha (and former co-author of her autobiography), painted a sordid tale, describing her dad as promiscuous and living a life that was a “sex circus.”

2. Aretha Franklin’s Mother Was a Gospel Singer But Abandoned Her

Aretha Franklin

Aretha got some of her singing chops from her mother, Barbara Siggers Franklin, who was a gospel singer. But Franklin’s mother died when she was only 10-years-old after having moved to New York following her split with Aretha’s dad, according to the New York Times.

Aretha’s mom did briefly follow the family to Detroit, but she moved to Buffalo, New York, shortly thereafter. Meanwhile, her daughter was soon to draw attention for her piano playing as well as her singing.

According to The New York Times, the family was a troubled one by certain respects, however. Both of Aretha’s parents had out-of-wedlock children, and, when Barbara had hers, she “abandoned Aretha” and moved away.

3. Aretha Franklin Has Four Children

Kirk Douglas and Aretha Franklin both received Kennedy Center Honors in 1994.

Aretha Franklin gave birth to four children. According to The Root, all four are sons. They are Edward and Clarence Franklin, Ted White Jr. and Kecalf Cunningham.

The Root reports that White and Cunningham have worked in the music business.

The New York Times reported that two of Aretha’s children were born when she was only 14-years-old. Her first child was said to be fathered by a school friend named Donald Burk.

A man she knew named Edward Jordan was the father of child two, Daily Mail reports. One of her children was the product of a relationship with Ted White, described by Daily Mail as a Detroit pimp. Road manager Ken Cunningham is the father of her fourth child, who is a Christian rapper.

4. Aretha Was Married Once & Has a Partner of Many Years


Aretha married twice, and she divorced twice. According to The Root, she stayed on friendly terms with her second husband, whose name was Glynn Turman. He is an actor known for The Wire.

In January 2012, People Magazine reported that Franklin was engaged to a man named Willie Wilkerson. According to People, she has referred to him as her “forever friend” and they were linked together as far back as the 1980s when they appeared together on the cover of Jet Magazine.

Telegraph reports that Wilkerson is a former firefighter whom Aretha met while signing autographs years ago. “We stayed close and he escorts me on occasion and we’re just cool. We’re real cool,” she told Jet Magazine in 2007.

She was also married to Ted White, for eight years and Turman for six.

5. Aretha Franklin Was Born into a Family of Five


Aretha was born in a family of five siblings. According to, she was the fourth child in the family.

Aretha and her siblings were raised in large part by their grandmother, The New York Times reported, because her father’s preaching made him a public figure and because of her mother’s absence.

Three of her siblings died from cancer.

It was her dad who would remain the most powerful influence in her life, many reports say.

Although Aretha Franklin kept her personal life under wraps, many questions about the 76-year-old “Queen of Soul” have surfaced since she passed away from advanced pancreatic cancer on Aug. 16. According to People, Aretha didn’t have an easy upbringing. The mom of four became pregnant with her first child when she was just 12 years old. To make the situation even more complicated, Aretha’s mother left the family due to her husband’s infidelity when Aretha was only 6 years old – leaving her without a mom to help her navigate the unplanned pregnancy.

David Ritz, a ghostwriter who has published several biographies on the singer, told People that young Aretha definitely didn’t have it easy. “She had a tough childhood,” he said, adding that Aretha’s mom, Barbara, never let on that she was having marital issues. “She put out a picture of her having a happy home and happy children and everything was rosy, and any stories to the contrary really got her mad.”


Best Aretha Franklin SongsMore

After Aretha gave birth to her oldest son, Clarence, she went back to school, and according to her older sister, Erma, she had a real knack for it: “She was an excellent student who did well in all her classes,” she said in Respect, one of Ritz’s biographies.

Erma was also quick to point out that despite eventually reaching international fame, being a teen mom definitely had its challenges. Just two years after having Clarence, Aretha became pregnant again with her son Edward. Shortly after giving birth, she dropped out of school for good to focus on her music career, which Erma said led to a life of “silent suffering” for the singer.

“We were part of that generation of young female singers who definitely sacrificed time with our kids to attend to our careers.”

Rather than leaving Aretha to parent on her own, her grandmother, known as “Big Mama,” stepped in to help raise Clarence and Edward. And although Aretha was extremely tight-lipped about who Clarence and Edward’s fathers were, Ritz confirmed in the singer’s 2014 biography that Clarence’s dad was Donald Burke, a boy Aretha knew from school.

Aretha gave birth to her third son, Teddy, after marrying his father, Ted White, at age 19. But they split up in 1969 after allegations of domestic abuse surfaced in the media. According to an article published in Time in 1968, Ted “roughed her up” more than once. Aretha had her fourth son, Kecalf, in 1970 with Ken E. Cunningham, her road manager at the time.


Pictures of Aretha Franklin Through the YearsMore

Erma told David Ritz that her sister’s struggles with motherhood and fame were mostly due to the generation they grew up in.

“We were part of that generation of young female singers who definitely sacrificed time with our kids to attend to our careers. We did so knowingly,” said Erma. “We also did so with heavy guilt.”

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But life on the road also exposed Franklin to adult behaviors, and at the age of 14, she became a mother for the first time with a son, Clarence. A second child, Edward, followed two years later — with both sons taking her family’s name. Franklin would later have two more sons: Ted White, Jr. and Kecalf Cunningham.

Albums and Songs


After a brief hiatus, Franklin returned to performing and followed heroes such as Cooke and Dinah Washington into pop and blues territory. In 1960, with her father’s blessing, Franklin traveled to New York, where after being courted by several labels, including Motown and RCA, she signed with Columbia Records, who released the album Aretha in 1961.

Though two tracks from Aretha would make the R&B Top 10, a bigger success came that same year with the single “Rock-a-bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody,” which crossed over to No. 37 on the pop charts.

But while Franklin enjoyed moderate results with her recordings over the next few years, they failed to fully showcase her immense talent. In 1966 she and her new husband and manager, Ted White, decided a move was in order, and Franklin signed to Atlantic. Producer Jerry Wexler immediately shuttled Franklin to the Florence Alabama Musical Emporium (FAME) recording studios.

“I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)”

Backed by the legendary Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section — which included session guitarists Eric Clapton and Duane Allman — Aretha recorded the single “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You).” In the midst of the recording sessions, White quarreled with a member of the band, and White and Franklin left abruptly.

But as the single became a massive Top 10 hit, Franklin re-emerged in New York and was able to complete the partially recorded track, “Do Right Woman—Do Right Man.”


Hitting her stride in 1967 and 1968, Franklin churned out a string of hit singles that would become enduring classics, showcasing Franklin’s powerful voice and gospel roots in a pop framework.

In 1967, the album I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You) was released, and the first song on the album, “Respect” — an empowered cover of an Otis Redding track — reached No. 1 on both the R&B and pop charts and won Aretha her first two Grammy Awards.

Dubbed the ‘Queen of Soul’

Franklin’s chart dominance soon earned her the title Queen of Soul, while at the same time she also became a symbol of black empowerment during the civil rights movement.

In 1968 Franklin was enlisted to perform at the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during which she paid tribute to her father’s fallen friend with a heartfelt rendition of “Precious Lord.” Later that year, she was also selected to sing the national anthem to begin the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

Amidst this newfound success, Franklin experienced upheaval in her personal life, and she and White divorced in 1969. But this did not slow Franklin’s steady rise, and the new decade brought more hit singles, including “Don’t Play That Song,” “Spanish Harlem” and her cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.”

‘Amazing Grace’

Spurred by Mahalia Jackson’s passing and a subsequent resurgence of interest in gospel music, Franklin returned to her musical origins for the 1972 album Amazing Grace, which sold more than 2 million copies and went on to become the best-selling gospel album at the time.

Franklin’s success continued throughout the 1970s, as she branched out to work with producers such as Curtis Mayfield and Quincy Jones and expanded her repertoire to include rock and pop covers. Along the way, she took home eight consecutive Grammy Awards for Best R&B Female Vocal Performance, the last coming for her 1974 single “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing.”

Career Struggles

But by 1975, Franklin’s sound was fading into the background with the onset of the disco craze, and an emerging set of young black singers, such as Chaka Khan and Donna Summer, began to eclipse Franklin’s career.

She did, however, find a brief respite from slumping sales with the 1976 soundtrack to the Warner Brothers film Sparkle — which topped the R&B charts and made the Top 20 in pop — as well as an invitation to perform at the 1977 presidential inauguration of Jimmy Carter. In 1978 she also married actor Glynn Turman.

A string of chart failures ended Franklin’s relationship with Atlantic in 1979. The same year, her father was hospitalized after a burglary attempt in his home left him in a coma. As her popularity waned and her father’s health declined, Franklin was also saddled with a massive bill from the IRS.

However, a cameo in the 1980 film The Blues Brothers helped Franklin revive her flagging career. Performing “Think” alongside comedians John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd exposed her to a new generation of R&B lovers, and she soon signed to Arista Records.

Her new label released 1982’s Jump To It, an album that enjoyed huge success on the R&B charts and earned Franklin a Grammy nomination. Two years later, she endured a divorce from Turman as well as the death of her father.

More Albums and Songs: 1980s and On

‘Who’s Zoomin’ Who?’

In 1985 Franklin returned to the top of the charts with a smash-hit album: the polished pop record Who’s Zoomin’ Who? Featuring the single “Freeway of Love,” as well as a collaboration with the popular rock band The Eurythmics, the record became Aretha’s biggest-selling album yet.

‘I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)’

Her follow-up, 1986’s Aretha, also charted well and eventually went gold, and her duet with British singer George Michael, “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me),” hit No. 1 on the pop charts.

In 1987 Franklin became the first female artist to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and was also awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Detroit. That same year, she released the album One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, which won the Grammy for Best Soul Gospel Performance.

Following another relatively quiet period in her career, in 1993, Franklin was invited to sing at the inauguration of Bill Clinton, and the following year she received both a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and Kennedy Center Honors. She would also be the focus of multiple documentaries and tributes as the decade progressed.

‘A Rose Is Still a Rose’

Nearing its conclusion, Franklin reprised her former role in Blues Brothers 2000, released the gold-selling “A Rose Is Still a Rose” and stood in for Luciano Pavarotti, who was too ill to accept his Lifetime Achievement Award, with her rendition of “Nessun Dorma” commanding stellar reviews.

‘So Damn Happy’

In 2003 Franklin released her final studio album on Arista, So Damn Happy, and left the label to found Aretha Records. Two years later, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and became the second woman ever to be inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame.

In 2008 she received her 18th Grammy Award for “Never Gonna Break My Faith” — a collaboration with Mary J. Blige — and was tapped to sing at the 2009 presidential inauguration of Barack Obama.

With 18 Grammys under her belt, Franklin is one of the most honored artists in Grammy history, ranked among the likes of Alison Krauss, Adele and Beyoncé Knowles. In 2011 Franklin released her first album on her own label, A Woman Falling Out of Love.

To support the project, she performed several concerts, including a two-night stint at the famed Radio City Music Hall in New York. With fans and critics alike impressed with her performances, she successfully proved that the Queen of Soul still reigned supreme.

‘Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics’

In 2014 Franklin underscored that point with Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics, which reached No. 13 on the pop charts and No. 3 R&B.

In February 2017, the 74-year-old Queen of Soul told Detroit radio station WDIV Local 4 that she was collaborating with Stevie Wonder to release a new album.

“I must tell you, I am retiring this year,” she said in the interview, adding: “I feel very, very enriched and satisfied with respect to where my career came from and where it is now. I’ll be pretty much satisfied, but I’m not going to go anywhere and just sit down and do nothing. That wouldn’t be good either.”

In January 2018, it was announced that Franklin had hand-picked singer and actress Jennifer Hudson to play her in an upcoming biopic.


On August 12, 2018, it was reported that a “gravely ill” Franklin was bedridden in her Detroit home, surrounded by family and friends. As news of her condition spread, more luminaries paid a visit to express their well wishes, including Wonder and Jesse Jackson.

Four days later, on the morning of August 16, Franklin succumbed to her illness, which her family revealed to be pancreatic cancer.

A public viewing was held later that month at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, with fans camping out overnight for the chance to pay their respects to the iconic singer. Her televised funeral was set to be held at the city’s Greater Grace Temple on August 31, with Wonder, Khan and Hudson among the scheduled performers, and Jackson, Clinton and Smokey Robinson highlighting the list of speakers.

Aretha Franklin, in full Aretha Louise Franklin, (born March 25, 1942, Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.—died August 16, 2018, Detroit, Michigan), American singer who defined the golden age of soul music of the 1960s.

Top Questions

Who was Aretha Franklin?

Aretha Franklin was an American singer, songwriter, and civil rights activist. Over 75 million copies of her albums have been sold. In 2005 Franklin received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for revolutionizing music and “helping to shape our Nation’s artistic and cultural heritage.” Today she is widely considered the “Queen of Soul.”

Where is Aretha Franklin from?

Although she was born in Memphis, Tennessee, Aretha Franklin spent most of her early years in Detroit, Michigan, with her mother, a gospel singer, and her father, a Baptist minister. After her parents separated, Franklin remained with her father in Detroit. In 1960 she moved to New York City to pursue a career in secular music.

How did Aretha Franklin start her career in music?

As a teen, Aretha Franklin sang in a junior gospel choir. She released a gospel album, The Gospel Sound of Aretha Franklin, in 1956, at age 14. In 1960 Franklin transitioned from sacred to secular music. She signed with Columbia Records in New York and released her first single, “Today I Sing the Blues,” in 1960.

What are some of Aretha Franklin’s most famous songs?

Aretha Franklin was in the music business for nearly 60 years. Her enormous discography includes 38 studio albums and 6 live albums. Her most famous songs include “Respect” (1967), “I Say a Little Prayer” (1968), “Chain of Fools” (1967), and “Until You Come Back to Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do)” (1973).

How did Aretha Franklin die?

Aretha Franklin died of advanced pancreatic cancer on August 16, 2018, in Detroit, Michigan.

Franklin’s mother, Barbara, was a gospel singer and pianist. Her father, C.L. Franklin, presided over the New Bethel Baptist Church of Detroit, Michigan, and was a minister of national influence. A singer himself, he was noted for his brilliant sermons, many of which were recorded by Chess Records. Her parents separated when she was six, and Franklin remained with her father in Detroit. Her mother died when Aretha was 10. As a young teen, Franklin performed with her father on his gospel programs in major cities throughout the country and was recognized as a vocal prodigy. Her central influence, Clara Ward of the renowned Ward Singers, was a family friend. Other gospel greats of the day—Albertina Walker and Jackie Verdell—helped shape young Franklin’s style. Her album The Gospel Sound of Aretha Franklin (1956) captures the electricity of her performances as a 14-year-old.

At age 18, with her father’s blessing, Franklin switched from sacred to secular music. She moved to New York City, where Columbia Records executive John Hammond, who had signed Count Basie and Billie Holiday, arranged her recording contract and supervised sessions highlighting her in a blues-jazz vein. From that first session, “Today I Sing the Blues” (1960) remains a classic. But, as her Detroit friends on the Motown label enjoyed hit after hit, Franklin struggled to achieve crossover success. Columbia placed her with a variety of producers who marketed her to both adults (“If Ever You Should Leave Me,” 1963) and teens (“Soulville,” 1964). Without targeting any particular genre, she sang everything from Broadway ballads to youth-oriented rhythm and blues. Critics recognized her talent, but the public remained lukewarm until 1966, when she switched to Atlantic Records, where producer Jerry Wexler allowed her to sculpt her own musical identity.

At Atlantic, Franklin returned to her gospel-blues roots, and the results were sensational. “I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love You)” (1967), recorded at Fame Studios in Florence, Alabama, was her first million-seller. Surrounded by sympathetic musicians playing spontaneous arrangements and devising the background vocals herself, Franklin refined a style associated with Ray Charles—a rousing mixture of gospel and rhythm and blues—and raised it to new heights. As a civil-rights-minded nation lent greater support to black urban music, Franklin was crowned the “Queen of Soul.” “Respect,” her 1967 cover of Otis Redding’s spirited composition, became an anthem operating on personal, sexual, and racial levels. “Think” (1968), which Franklin wrote herself, also had more than one meaning. For the next half-dozen years, she became a hit maker of unprecedented proportions; she was “Lady Soul.”

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In the early 1970s she triumphed at the Fillmore West in San Francisco before an audience of flower children and on whirlwind tours of Europe and Latin America. Amazing Grace (1972), a live recording of her performance with a choir at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles, is considered one of the great gospel albums of any era. By the late 1970s disco cramped Franklin’s style and eroded her popularity. But in 1982, with help from singer-songwriter-producer Luther Vandross, she was back on top with a new label, Arista, and a new dance hit, “Jump to It,” followed by “Freeway of Love” (1985). A reluctant interviewee, Franklin kept her private life private, claiming that the popular perception associating her with the unhappiness of singers Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday was misinformed.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; Franklin, Aretha; Joplin, JanisAn exhibit on Aretha Franklin’s career and Janis Joplin’s Porsche 356C were among the offerings at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, in 2011.Great Museums Television (A Britannica Publishing Partner)See all videos for this article

In 1987 Franklin became the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In addition, she received a Kennedy Center Honor in 1994, a National Medal of Arts in 1999, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005. While her album sales in the 1990s and 2000s failed to approach the numbers of previous decades, Franklin remained the Queen of Soul. In 2009 she electrified a crowd of more than one million with her performance of “My Country ’Tis of Thee” at the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama, and her rendition of Carole King’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” during the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony in 2015 was no less breathtaking. The documentary Amazing Grace, which chronicles her recording of the 1972 album, premiered in 2018.

  • Franklin, ArethaAretha Franklin, 1992.© Americanspirit/
  • Franklin, ArethaAretha Franklin, 2010.© Laurence Agron/

Aretha Franklin was born in Memphis Tennessee, but at an early age, her family moved, first to Buffalo, New York, and finally to Detroit, Michigan, where she spent her formative years. Although Aretha Franklin spent much of her adult life in New York and Los Angeles, she would always regard Detroit as her hometown and returned to the city for the last three decades of her life.

1962: Aretha Franklin, age 20, recording at the piano at Columbia Studios in New York. Aretha Louis Franklin was born on March 25, 1942, in Memphis, Tennessee. (Photo: Donaldson Collection/Michael Ochs Archives and Getty)

Aretha’s mother died when she was ten, and she was raised by her father, a Baptist minister. For 33 years, Rev. C. L. Franklin was pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit. Rev. Franklin was not only a popular pastor but an influential civil rights activist, in demand for speaking engagements around the country. Several of his sermons were recorded and issued as phonograph records. Admirers called him the “man with the million-dollar voice.” Notable figures from the civil rights movement were regular visitors to New Bethel Church and were welcome guests in the Franklin home. The country’s premier gospel singers — Mahalia Jackson and Clara Ward — as well as secular jazz and blues musicians, also paid calls on Rev. Franklin, Aretha, and her brothers and sisters.

1968: Record producer Jerry Wexler, soul singer Aretha Franklin, and her husband and manager, Ted White, pose for a portrait holding framed records that were presented by the RIAA to commemorate a milestone in sales. Aretha Franklin released two studio albums in 1968, Lady Soul and Aretha Now, both Top Five hits on the Billboard album chart. Aretha won her first two Grammys for Best Rhythm & Blues Recording and Best Rhythm & Blues Solo Vocal Performance, Female for “Respect” at the 10th Annual Grammy Awards on February 29, 1968. (Getty Images)

Aretha’s father encouraged her to sing. When she was very small, her father would stand her on a chair to be seen from the pews when she sang in church. She learned to play piano by ear, although she resisted formal lessons, and by age ten, she could foresee a career as a gospel singer. In her teens, she joined the junior choir that traveled with her father on his speaking engagements. While in California, the Franklins met the young Sam Cooke, lead singer with the gospel group the Soul Stirrers; they followed his career with interest as he left the Soul Stirrers to focus instead on secular pop music. Sam Cooke’s success made a deep impression on young Aretha, who began to wonder if she too might pursue a music career outside of the church.

Her teenage years were difficult; while still a teenager, she gave birth to two sons by different boyfriends. Her grandmother and older sisters helped raise the children while Aretha continued to work at her music. With Rev. Franklin acting as manager, she recorded some gospel songs for a local record label, but her father felt she could do better with a larger national record company.

1971: Portrait of Aretha Franklin (center), her father, C. L. Franklin, pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan, and her sister, fellow singer Carolyn Franklin, in New York. (Photo by Anthony Barboza and Getty Images)

Passing on an offer from Berry Gordy’s Motown Records in Detroit, Rev. Franklin prevailed on musician friends to form a small group to make a demonstration recording for Columbia Records. An executive at Columbia, the legendary producer John Hammond, was impressed with Aretha’s demos and invited her to New York for a live audition. Hammond and his colleagues were sold, and at age 18, Aretha Franklin was signed to a contract with the most prestigious of American record companies. Leaving her daughters with her family in Detroit, she moved to New York City to make her first major-label recordings.

Hammond teamed Aretha Franklin with some of the best arrangers and musicians in the business and recorded a variety of material, emphasizing the breadth of her talent. Her early sessions included some blues and gospel-tinged numbers, but for the most part, Columbia seemed to see Franklin as a jazz and pop vocalist in the mode of Dinah Washington. Her first single for Columbia, “Today I Sing the Blues,” placed in the Top Ten on Billboard magazine’s Rhythm and Blues (R&B) bestseller chart in 1960. In January, Columbia released her first album, Aretha: With The Ray Bryant Combo. Her first single on Billboard’s pop music Top 40 chart was a 1920s standard, “Rock-a-bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody.”

1980: Aretha Franklin with actor John Belushi and actor and screenwriter Dan Aykroyd on the set of the musical comedy film The Blues Brothers, directed by John Landis. In the blockbuster film, Aretha Franklin plays the role of Mrs. Murphy, a diner waitress whose husband is asked to rejoin Jake (Belushi) and Elwood (Aykroyd) Blues’ band. In a show-stealing scene, Franklin sings her classic hit “Think” with backup singing and dancing customers and finger-wagging to emphasize the humorous “Freedom” reprise. (Photo: Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

In 1961, Franklin married Ted White, a friend from Detroit who became her manager. Her records were well reviewed, and she swiftly acquired a reputation in the industry as a compelling new voice. Shy and unassuming by nature, Franklin worked with the veteran African American dancer and choreographer Charles “Cholly” Atkins to acquire a more forceful stage presence. By the mid-‘60s, she was winning an enthusiastic following for her live performances, and critics had begun to call her the “Queen of Soul,” a title that would never be challenged.

1987: The “Godfather of Soul” James Brown and the “Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin perform at Taboo nightclub in Detroit. That year, Franklin became the first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. (AP/Rob Kozloff)

Despite her popularity with critics and audiences, Franklin’s record label seemed uncertain about which direction to take her career. Columbia had her recording both R&B and “easy listening” pop songs. She scored hits on both the R&B and Easy Listening charts, but with the new sounds of rock and soul music dominating the charts, Franklin did not believe Columbia was providing the best opportunity to fulfill her true potential.

Determined to make a change, in 1967, Franklin moved from Columbia to Atlantic Records, the R&B-oriented label founded by Ahmet Ertegun. Ertegun, the son of a Turkish diplomat, had spent his student years in Washington, D.C., where he fell in love with jazz, blues, and the entire rich tradition of African American music. He had focused on bringing black artists to the attention of a larger public, enjoying particular success with singer and pianist Ray Charles.

January 17, 1993: Aretha Franklin headlining a concert that kicked off the entire Clinton/Gore Inaugural. “America’s Reunion on the Mall,” a two-day event on the National Mall between Capitol Hill and the Washington Monument, drew a record-setting crowd of one million people. The event began with a concert where Aretha Franklin was joined by performers Bob Dylan, Tony Bennett, LL Cool J, Diana Ross, and Michael Bolton. (Mark Reinstein/Corbis)

Ertegun assigned producer Jerry Wexler to work with Franklin. Rather than selecting material for her, Wexler urged her to choose her own songs. Rather than having elaborate orchestral arrangements written for her, he urged her to accompany herself on the piano and create the groove for each song, allowing improvising musicians to follow her lead. Her first single for Atlantic, “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” shot to number one on the R&B chart, and to number one on the Billboard Hot 100, and gave the title to her first album. In December of 1967, the B-side of her first single, “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man,” also made the R&B Top 40.

1998: Gloria Estefan, Mariah Carey, Aretha Franklin, Carole King, Shania Twain, and Celine Dion at historic Beacon Theatre in New York City for VH1’s Divas Live special. The evening — a benefit supporting the channel’s Save the Music Foundation — became iconic television, spawning an album and over ten subsequent Divas Live specials. And while the concert was filled with memorable moments, it was its finale that stands out, with all six singers joining together for an epic performance of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” (Kevin Mazur and Getty)

The following spring, Atlantic released the single that will forever be inextricably associated with Aretha Franklin. The soul singer Otis Redding had originally written and recorded the song “Respect” in 1965. Franklin rearranged the song, adding the break in which she spelled out the word “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” while her sisters rapidly sang the words “sock it to me,” a popular catchphrase of the day. The new arrangement, her performance — and the unmistakable significance of a woman rather than a man demanding respect from her loved one — spoke to the pent-up frustrations of men and women around the world. The song was embraced as an anthem by both the civil rights movement and by the burgeoning women’s movement.

1999: Academy Awards Council member and civil rights pioneer Coretta Scott King presenting the Golden Plate Award to Aretha Franklin at the Banquet of the Golden Plate ceremonies during the Summit in Washington, D.C.

“Respect” brought Franklin two Grammy Awards, for Best R&B Record and Best Female R&B Performance. Her first Atlantic album became a gold record, selling half a million copies. Franklin scored two more Top Ten singles in 1968: “Baby I Love You” and the unforgettable “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” which was written by Carole King. The following year, she released two Top Ten albums, Lady Soul and Aretha Now! The year also saw some of her most successful singles, “Chain of Fools,” “Ain’t No Way,” “Think,” and “Say a Little Prayer.”

2003: Academy members Aretha Franklin, Chuck Berry, President Bill Clinton, and Patti Austin at the International Achievement Summit’s Banquet of the Golden Plate gala ceremonies at the Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C.

In February 1968, she was presented with the Drum Beat Award of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whom she had known since she was a teenager. When Dr. King was murdered in April, Franklin performed the spiritual “My Precious Lord” at his funeral. Now an international star, she toured Europe that spring and was featured on the cover of TIME magazine.

November 9, 2005: President George W. Bush presenting Aretha Franklin with the Presidential Medal of Freedom during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca/Sipa via AP)

Franklin divorced husband Ted White in 1969 and took full charge of her career for the first time. In the early 1970s, she continued her run of hit albums with Spirit in the Dark and Young, Gifted and Black. She was the first soul artist to play at the San Francisco rock venue Fillmore West, a performance documented on the album Aretha Live at Fillmore West, in 1971. Returning to her roots in gospel music, she recorded a live album at New Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles. Amazing Grace sold over two million copies, making it the bestselling album of her career and the bestselling gospel album of all time.

January 20, 2009: Aretha Franklin sings a live rendition of “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” during the inauguration ceremony for U.S. President-elect Barack Obama in Washington, D.C. Franklin’s hat — a gray felt cloche topped with a giant, matching bow, outlined in rhinestones — became a sensation. (Photo: JIM BOURG/Reuters/Corbis)

Jerry Wexler’s departure from Atlantic left her without a strong partner at the label. A collaboration with Quincy Jones on the album Hey Now Hey was a disappointment. She scored her last R&B hit of the ‘70s with “Something He Can Feel” from the soundtrack of the film Sparkle. Her last albums for Atlantic sold poorly, and in the middle of the decade, her career was faltering.

Franklin moved from New York to Los Angeles in search of renewed inspiration and opportunity. In 1978, she married actor Glynn Turman, making a new home for her children as well as his. Family matters took center stage in 1979. In Detroit, Rev. C. L. Franklin was shot at his home, presumably by a burglar attempting a robbery. He survived the shooting but fell into a coma. His children provided 24-hour nursing care at home. Her father lingered in a coma for five years and never regained consciousness.

2012: Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin is joined onstage by Awards Council member General Colin Powell during her inspiring musical performance to close the evening of the 50th annual Banquet of the Golden Plate ceremonies.

Franklin ended her 12-year relationship with Atlantic Records in 1979 and began looking for a new label. She was back in the public eye with a memorable performance in the highly successful film The Blues Brothers, singing her 1960s hit “Think.” She signed with Arista Records, run by proven hitmaker Clive Davis. Franklin gradually returned to the top of the charts with her albums for Arista, scoring a gold record with her 1982 album, Jump to It. The same year, Franklin separated from her husband, Glynn Turman, and returned home to Detroit to be near her family. With her brother and sisters at her side, she saw her father through his last days. C. L. Franklin died in 1984.

For Aretha Franklin, personal loss coincided with renewed career success. Her 1985 Arista album, Who’s Zoomin’ Who, was certified platinum and included the massive hit single “Freeway of Love.” The same year, she became the first woman to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. In 1987, she recorded another gospel album, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, at her father’s old church in Detroit. She enjoyed further chart success throughout the 1990s with the singles “A Deeper Love,” “Willing to Forgive,” and “A Rose Is Still a Rose.” The album of the same name was also a gold record. The music industry honored her with a Grammy Legend Award in 1991 and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994.

In 2015, Pope Francis visited North America for the World Meeting of Families. At the conclusion of his tour, Pope Francis departed for Philadelphia, where the Supreme Pontiff was serenaded by the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin at the Festival of Families, an event celebrating U.S. music and culture. (Image by Tony Gentile/Reuters and Corbis)

In 1998, Franklin was scheduled to appear at the Grammy Awards. When fellow guest performer, the famed operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti, was forced by illness to cancel at the last minute, Franklin was asked to fill in his place in the program. The orchestra had prepared to accompany Pavarotti in one of his signature pieces, the aria “Nessun Dorma” from Puccini’s opera Turandot. Franklin already had sung the aria herself at a benefit concert a few months earlier, in her own key. To the amazement of producers, musicians, and the audience, she offered to sing it with the orchestra in the tenor’s original key. Her astonishing performance stopped the show. The aria became a regular part of her concert repertoire and inspired her to further explore classical vocal literature. In 2003, after 20 years with Arista Records, she recorded her last album with the label, Jewels in the Crown: All-Star Duets with the Queen.

2015: U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. presents the Portrait of a Nation Prize to Aretha Franklin during the National Portrait Gallery’s inaugural American Portrait Gala. In the background, the color photolithographic poster of Aretha Franklin — hanging in the National Portrait Gallery — created by the celebrated graphic designer Milton Glaser in 1968; Aretha Franklin performs her greatest hits during the American Portrait Gala in Washington, D.C.

More than a beloved entertainer, Aretha Franklin had become a treasured living symbol of the American spirit. In 2005, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush. She was no stranger to public ceremonies, having performed at President Bill Clinton’s inaugural gala in 1993. An even more emotional moment occurred when she performed in the frigid open air at the inauguration of President Barack Obama in 2009, delivering a memorable performance of “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee.”

On November 7, 2017, Aretha Franklin played her final show, which consisted of a medley of hits —including “I Say a Little Prayer”— at Elton John’s annual AIDS Foundation Gala at Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. Three months later, Franklin announced she would retire from the road. (Photo by Nicholas Hunt and WireImage)

Her 2014 album, Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics, included not only her version of “Nessun Dorma” but a version of “Rolling in the Deep,” previously a hit for the British singer Adele. Franklin’s version became her 100th song to make the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop chart. She had now received every conceivable honor from her peers in the music world, in addition to her 18 Grammy Awards.

After canceling some concerts due to health issues, she toured the United States again in 2014. In 2015, she sang “Nessun Dorma” for Pope Francis at the World Meeting of Families. At that year’s Kennedy Center Honors, during a tribute to Carole King, Franklin sang “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” to an audience including President Barack Obama and Mrs. Obama, winning a standing ovation from the audience and moving the president to tears.

Aretha Franklin live in Palermo (1970) on the cover of October 2018 issue of Rolling Stone magazine. (Jan Persson)

On November 7, 2017, she gave her last public performance, singing at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, at the 15th Annual Elton John AIDS Foundation Gala. Aretha Franklin succumbed to pancreatic cancer at the age of 76 in 2018. She was mourned around the world. Speakers at her funeral included former President Barack Obama, who said her life and work “helped define the American experience.” Her recorded legacy and the example of her passion, endurance, and commitment to her art continue to inspire musicians, music lovers and ordinary men and women the world over.