Aretha Louise Franklin was born in 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee, although she was raised in Detroit, Michigan. Her father was the Reverend CL Franklin much respected figure in the black community and hosted his own nationally broadcast radio show. Aretha's mother, Barbara was a gospel singer who abandoned her when she only six years old. Aretha joined her female siblings, Carolyn and Erma, and sang in the choir at her father's Detroit-area church. The diva made her first recordings at the age of 14.
Young Aretha was a bit of wild child and was a single mum aged 15, she dropped out of high school soon after the birth of her second son a year later but her grandmother took care of the children to let Aretha move on in her career. She signed for CBS/Columbia Records in 1961 and they proceeded to promote her as a jazz singer with "Rock-a-bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody,” a sizable hit.
Aretha married Ted White in 1962 and he became her manager during her years with Columbia Records. When the Columbia contract expired in 1966, Aretha joined Atlantic and producer Jerry Wexler started working on her R&B roots. At first they were based at the Florence Alabama Music Emporium studios in Muscle Shoals. Here she came in contact with Eric Clapton and Greg Allman, both working as session men. Unfortunately only one song was completed simply because there was bad feeling between husband Ted White, and some of the musos. Ironically the soulful and impassioned song which was completed was to prove a cracker "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)."
The soulful, gospel charged song convinced Aretha to finish the album in New York with the Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section. Aretha is quoted to have said, "When I went to Atlantic, they just sat me down at the piano and the hits started coming," and throughout the 60s the diva recorded many soul classics, among her most successful were gospel-crossover hits like Respect, A Natural Woman (You Make Me Feel Like), Chain Of Fools, Think, and I say a little prayer.
By the end of the decade Aretha was at her peak having sold millions of records worldwide. Her troubled eight-year marriage to White ended in 1969, but misfortune in her private life continued with the murder of her father and rumours of her battle with alcoholism. Despite this she continued to make great music and although it was now mellowed slightly, Aretha lost none of her power, and she continued the hugely successful relationship with Wexler and Mardin while beginning to take a greater role in producing her work. She linked up with Quincy Jones in 1973 and between them they came up with the soul classic Angel (written by her sister Carolyn).
Aretha had another Number 1 with I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) in the early 80s with a duet with George Michael, and her last mainstream hit was 1985's Freeway Of Love but she continues to perform and record.
Aretha Franklin (The Queen of Soul) is regarded generally as one of the top vocalists ever, due to her ability to inject whatever she may be singing about with passion, soul and sheer conviction. Her vocal range is thought to be about 4 octaves.
Worth a listen:
Precious Lord (Part 1) (1959)
Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody (1961)
Lee Cross (1967)
I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You) (1967)
A Natural Woman (You Make Me Feel Like) (1967)
Chain Of Fools (1967/8)
Think ( 1968)
I say a little prayer (1968)
Son Of A Preacher Man (1970)
Freeway of Love (1985)