The grande dame of American popular music, this exceptional singer has been electrifying audiences for decades, breathing soul into everything she touches, be it gospel, R&B, funk, or even hip-hop. In the late 1980s, she became the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In her long and varied career, the Atlantic recordings of late 1960s stand out, with such classics as Respect, Chain of Fools and Think.
The daughter of a pastor, Aretha Louise Franklin was born in Memphis, Tennessee on March 25, 1942. Soon thereafter, the Franklin family moved to Detroit. As well as get along quite well on the piano, the young Aretha piano was gifted with a beautiful voice, and before long she was singing at the church where her father was pastor. Aretha immersed herself in gospel, and her influences included Clara Ward and Mahalia Jackson.
Aretha Franklin made her debut recording in 1956, for JVB/Battle Records, and in 1960 she signed with Columbia. Recruited by legendary talent scout John Hammond, who discovered Billie Holiday, she moved away from her gospel roots and began to flirt with jazz. In spite of some laudable efforts, however, popular success still eluded her.
The Queen of Soul
All of that changed the day the singer signed with Atlantic. I was early 1967. Producer Jerry Wexler steered Aretha in the direction of R&B and soul, which suited her vocal style to a T. For the next year and a half, the artist got down to business, turning out a string of hits including Respect, Chain of Fools and (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.
The popular successes continued until the mid-1970s. With Amazing Grace, a 1972 recording, she marked a return to gospel. In the latter half of the decade, however, the hits were fewer and farther between, with some material seeming to lack inspiration.
A change of administration in early 1980s lent renewed spark to her career. With Arista, Aretha collaborated with George Benson and then Luther Vandross, with whom she created Jump To It, a Gold-certified album.
Aretha followed with the album Get It Right, which was poorly received. She came back strong, though, with Who's Zoomin' Who (1985), featuring the hits Freeway of Love and Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves, recorded with Annie Lennox of the Eurythmics.
There were few popular successes in the decade that followed. Only A Rose Is Still A Rose (1998) marked a departure of sorts: here, Aretha effectively combined hip-hop, soul and urban music. The title track, produced by Lauryn Hill, was a hit.
In 2008, Aretha Franklin paid her first visit to the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, where she became the 10th winner of the Ella-Fitzgerald Award, presented to an international artist in recognition of the scope, flexibility, improvisational originality and quality of his/her repertoire.
In January 2009, Aretha Franklin performed at the swearing-in ceremony for American President Barack Obama.