Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin

Synopsis of Pop Music

“R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me…”

Soul music already had one Godfather in James Brown (who somehow was also Soul Brother Number One), but the family tree opened up a prime new branch for its first female royalty: Lady Soul, the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. After more than 40 years of recording gospel, soul, disco, funk and dance tunes, the original soul diva has more than earned her claim to nobility. Blessed with one of the most dynamic voices in the music world, Aretha Franklin turned a love of gospel music into hit after hit in the secular world. Whether covering the old standards, recording other artists’ hits or singing duets with fellow divas both male and female, Aretha made every song her own, dropping the jaws of a nation and inspiring little girls everywhere to warble into their hairbrushes in imitation of their idol.

Born in Memphis but raised in Detroit, Aretha Franklin got her first taste of music’s power in the church of her father, the famed preacher Reverend C.L. Franklin. Family friends Mahalia Jackson and Clara Ward inspired young Aretha to pursue music professionally, and by age 14, Franklin had cut her first album of gospel tunes, The Gospel Sound of Aretha Franklin. Four years later, in 1960, Aretha took her act into secular music, following the advice of Sam Cooke. A contract with Columbia Records followed, and by the end of 1960, The Great Aretha Franklin was in record stores across the country.

Franklin’s work with Columbia was a mixed blessing. She was certainly given ample exposure, scoring an instant r&b #10 with “Today I Sing the Blues” and crossing over to the pop Top-40 with “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody,” but the latter was her only real crossover success for Columbia. In critical hindsight, most feel that Aretha’s voice wasn’t being used to its fullest on the material Columbia was giving her. 1964’s Unforgettable: A Tribute to Dinah Washington hinted at what an unleashed Franklin was capable of, but her career wouldn’t really take off until she switched labels to Atlantic.

Atlantic’s Jerry Wexler figured that the gas needed to sustain Aretha’s fire would come from gritty r&b, not blues or jazz. The producer took his new charge down to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where musicians well-versed in Southern r&b would unlock the diva-to-be’s potential. “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)” was the only finished song resulting from these sessions, as Franklin’s then-husband Ted White got into an altercation with one of the musicians and insisted on returning to New York. But Wexler had already seen all he needed, and the producer simply brought the Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section up to New York with him.

By early 1967, “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)” was at the top of the r&b charts (for seven full weeks), and the song had given Aretha her first pop Top-10. Nine more Top-10 pop crossovers would follow in the next year and a half: The immortal “Respect” reached #1 and earned Franklin her first Grammy for Best R&B Solo Vocal Performance, Female (a category Franklin would come to dominate, winning 8 in a row and 13 total). “Baby I Love You,” “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman,” “Chain of Fools,” “(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone,” “I Say a Little Prayer” and “The House That Jack Built” confirmed Franklin’s reputation as the ‘Queen of Soul,’ as did her first self-penned hit, “Think.”

Franklin’s divorce from White clouded some of her late 60’s output, but personal problems had little impact on her divine voice. Covering tunes from artists as diverse as the Beatles (“Eleanor Rigby”), Simon & Garfunkel (“Bridge Over Troubled Water”), Elton John (“Border Song (Holy Moses)”) and Ben E. King (“Don’t Play That Song,” “Spanish Harlem”), Franklin’s voice soared, keeping her solidly in the Top-40 and continuing her string of Grammy wins. Franklin originals like “Call Me” were just as powerful, if not more so, and her albums were equally as popular as her singles.

Throughout the 1970’s, Franklin experimented in a variety of styles. 1972 brought a triumphant return to gospel in Amazing Grace, a double-live album that would make Billboard history by debuting at #7 (a first for a gospel recording), but Aretha also proved her capabilities in jazz, funk, disco and more. Through it all, the hits kept coming: “Young, Gifted and Black,” “Day Dreaming,” Jimi Hendrix’s “Angel,” Stevie Wonder’s “Until You Come Back To Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do),” “I’m in Love” and more.

As the 1980’s began, Franklin introduced a whole new audience to her vocal prowess with an appearance in the Dan Aykroyd/Jim Belushi comedy The Blues Brothers, singing a memorable rendition of “Think” inside a Chicago diner. Her Atlantic contract up, Franklin moved to Arista for a series of modestly successful albums—Aretha, Love All the Hurt Away, Jump To It, Get It Right—before returning to the pop mainstream in a big way with 1985’s Who’s Zoomin’ Who? Danceable r&b was the diva’s new music of choice, leading to the #3 “Freeway of Love” and further Top-20 hits in “Who’s Zoomin’ Who” and the Annie Lennox duet “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves.”

1986’s Aretha delivered more pop and r&b hits in a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and a duet with George Michael, “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me),” which gave Franklin her first pop #1 since “Respect.” Further duets followed with everyone from Elton John (“Through the Storm”) to Whitney Houston (“It Isn’t, It Wasn’t, It Ain’t Never Gonna Be”), leading to an all-duet TV special in 1993.

By the 1990’s, Aretha Franklin was already a musical institution, but she was no museum piece. The original soul diva kept the pop hits coming with 1994’s “Willing To Forgive” and 1998’s “A Rose Is Still a Rose,” and she nearly brought the roof down when she accepted a last-minute plea to fill in for opera tenor Luciano Pavarotti on “Nessun Dorma” at the 1998 Grammy Awards. The Queen of Soul still reigns supreme, as her commanding performances on outings like VH-1’s Divas Live continue to prove. Her past hits are known by young and old worldwide, and her powerful, unforgettable voice remains one of the most treasured assets of American music. The Queen of Soul is as close to royalty as Americans get, and compared to her, the rest of us are all mere commoners.

Artist Release History

1956 - The Gospel Soul of Aretha Franklin
1962 - The Electrifying Aretha Franklin
1962 - The Tender, The Moving, The Swinging Aretha Franklin
1963 - Laughing on the Outside
1964 - Songs of Faith
1964 - Unforgettable: A Tribute to Dinah Washington
1964 - Runnin' Out of Fools
1965 - Once in a Lifetime
1965 - Yeah!!
1966 - Soul Sister
1967 - Take It Like You Give It
1967 - Lee Cross
1967 - Aretha Arrives
1967 - I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)
1967 - Aretha Franklin's Greatest Hits
1968 - Aretha in Paris
1968 - Aretha Now
1968 - Queen of Soul
1968 - Aretha: Lady Soul
1969 - Aretha Franklin: Live!
1969 - I Say a Little Prayer
1969 - Soul '69
1969 - Aretha's Gold
1970 - Don't Play That Song
1970 - Sweet Bitter Love
1970 - This Girl's in Love With You
1970 - Spirit in the Dark
1971 - Aretha Live at the Fillmore West
1971 - Young, Gifted and Black
1971 - Aretha's Greatest Hits
1972 - Amazing Grace
1972 - In the Beginning/The World of Aretha Franklin
1973 - Hey Now Hey (The Other Side of the Sky)
1973 - The Great Aretha Franklin: The First 12 Sides
1974 - With Everything I Feel in Me
1974 - Let Me in Your Life
1975 - You
1976 - Sparkle
1976 - Ten Years of Gold
1977 - Satisfaction
1977 - Sweet Passion
1977 - Most Beautiful Songs
1978 - Almighty Fire
1979 - La Diva
1980 - Aretha
1980 - Aretha Sings the Blues
1981 - Love All the Hurt Away
1982 - Jump To It
1983 - Get It Right
1984 - Never Grow Old
1984 - Aretha's Jazz
1985 - First Lady of Soul
1985 - Who's Zoomin' Who?
1986 - Soul Survivor
1986 - Aretha
1986 - 30 Greatest Hits
1987 - One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism
1989 - Through the Storm
1991 - What You See Is What You Sweat
1992 - Jazz to Soul
1993 - Queen of Soul - The Atlantic Recordings
1994 - Greatest Hits (1980-1994)
1994 - The Very Best of Aretha Franklin, Vol. 1
1994 - The Very Best of Aretha Franklin, Vol. 2
1997 - Love Songs
1997 - Early Years
1998 - A Rose Is Still a Rose
1998 - You Grow Closer
1998 - The Delta Meets Detroit: Aretha's Blues
1998 - This Is Jazz, Vol. 34
1999 - Amazing Grace: The Complete Recordings
2000 - Aretha Gospel

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Essential Music Albums

30 Greatest Hits
Amazing Grace: The Complete Recordings

Band Members

Aretha Franklin  vocals

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