Aretha Franklin is one of the most successful female recording artists of all time. She was born on March 25, 1942, in Memphis, Tennessee to C. L. and Barbara Franklin. C.L. was a famous Baptist preacher who later founded his own church and Barbara was an accomplished pianist and singer. Aretha was a gifted musician since her childhood. She learned to play the piano by ear and had a marvelous voice. She began singing church gospel from a very early age and was considered a prodigy. Her parents separated when she was 6, and her mother died due to a heart attack when Aretha was 10 years old. The family moved to Detroit and Aretha often accompanied her father while he was travelling all over the country, delivering sermons. She sang in his gospel group and accompanied a measure of fame during her teens.
Her father initially managed her career, and Aretha was pursued by several labels. She eventually signed with Columbia Records, where she released her first album titled “Aretha: With The Ray Bryant Combo”. The album achieved modest commercial success and also made her an internationally recognized voice in Australia and Canada. She released two more albums in 1962, “The Electrifying Aretha Franklin” and “The Tender, the Moving, the Swinging Aretha Franklin”. Her albums were a mixture of pop and R&B, and included hits like “Won’t Be Long”, “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody” and “Operation Heartbreak”. She performed at various concerts and tours and became more famous by the day. In 1967, she switched labels and moved to Atlantic Records. Her first album with Atlantic was “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You” which was her most commercially successful album to date. It included hits like “Baby I Love You” and “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman”.
The following year, she released two albums titled “Lady Soul” and “Aretha Now” including hits like “Chain of Fools”, “Ain’t No Way”, “Think” and “I Say a Little Prayer”. The same year, she won her first two Grammy Awards, appeared on the cover of Time magazine and performed at the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who had been her father’s long time friend. She continued to record tirelessly during the 1970s and released a string of successful albums such as “Spirit in the Dark”, “Young, Gifted & Black”, “Amazing Grace” and “Aretha Live at Fillmore West”. She switched labels again during the 1980s, this time moving to Clive Davis’ Arista Records. She performed for Queen Elizabeth at the Royal Albert Hall. Her 1985 album “Who’s Zoomin’ Who” became her first platinum album and was followed by another equally successful album “Aretha”.
In 1987, Aretha became the first woman to be inducted into the Rock & Roll hall of Fame. In 1998, she accepted a Lifetime Achievement Award on behalf of Luciano Pavarotti who was too ill to accept it. On the same show, she performed the famous opera aria “Nessun Dorma” which received rave reviews. In 2003 she released the album “So Damn Happy” after which she left Arista to start her own label by the name of Aretha Records. In 2005, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and in 2009, she performed at the inauguration ceremony of President Obama.
Aretha Franklin has had unprecedented success as an artist, receiving 18 Grammy Awards and numerous other awards and accolades. Her personal life, however, has always been a struggle. She had her first child at the age of 15, and has been married twice. The “Queen of Soul” currently lives in Detroit, Michigan.