Aretha Franklin was a typical girl from Detroit with a special voice prior to becoming an international phenomenon. In 1942, Franklin was born in Memphis, TN, then moved to Detroit at five. Her parents being a Baptist minister and a musician, set the tone for the foundation of her legendary music career. Her father assumed the position as Pastor of the New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, which went on to become a headquarters for the Civil Rights Movement in the city. That church was the origin of her incredible singing journey.
When she turned 18 in 1960, her career started, and with her hit song "Respect" in 1967, her career took off. By the end of the 60's she was given the title "Queen of Soul." Although she was known as the "Queen of Soul", Franklin's work was musically voracious. Her songs charted in every genre from pop to Gospel to R&B. Franklin's career triumphed for over 60 years before her tragic death at 76 from pancreatic cancer on August 16, 2018.
Here are some fascinating facts about the iconic singer who will forever live on in our hearts.
She started singing at the age of nine.
Aretha Franklin was raised in the Baptist-Christian denomination and first began singing in her father's gospel choir. The talented young woman sang her first solo in front of the church congregation at age nine. She would go on tour with her father and his group to sing around the country.
Her very first song was recorded at the New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit.
Her dad humbled her from the start.
Franklin visited NYC for the first time when she was 16 years old to take singing and dance lessons. Upon her arrival back home, her attitude changed.
"When I went home, I didn't think I was supposed to do housework anymore," the singer stated in an interview in 1998. "This is too mundane for me. I'm not supposed to do that. I've been to New York. I'm a star now!"
Franklin spoke of how she noticed her sisters cleaning the house but did not want to help out. When her Dad entered the room to ask why she wasn't helping, she responded," 'I'm a star. I'm not supposed to do that. I've been to New York City.' He said, 'Well, listen, star, you better get in the kitchen and introduce yourself to all those dirty dishes.' I have not been a star since. I really needed that. He grounded me, and he gave me balance, and from then on, I'm not a star; I'm the lady next door."
Her famous hit song "Respect" was about respect for everyone.
Although the well-known hit song "Respect" became a feminist and civil rights movement anthem, it wasn't originally written for that purpose in 1967. In a 2016 interview with Vogue magazine, Franklin explained the origin of the song.
"My sister and I, we just liked that record, and the statement was something that was very important. It's important for people. Not just me or the Civil Rights movement or women—it's important to people. As people, we deserve respect from one another. That's also what the song's line "give me my propers" refers to, that the phrase was street slang for mutual respect."
That song became a power anthem for many and the first number one hit for Franklin, later becoming a song known by almost every household. The song's message also became an empowering lifelong phrase for the award-winning singer.
"I give it and I get it," Franklin spoke the topic of respect. "Anyone that I don't get it from does not deserve my time or attention."
She received a plethora of awards and even made music history.
Franklin started her career during a time of segregation and hardship for African Americans. It is incredibly inspiring that she accomplished so much in such unprecedented times to be a black woman in America. The music legend made history countless times with many of her achievements.
- Franklin received a GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994.
- She was the first female singer inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Jan 1987.
- She went on to win 18 Grammys, make 112 Billboard chart-topping singles, and sell over 76 million records all over the world. "The Queen of Soul" remains the most charted female artist in history.
- The pop-culture icon was the second African American woman to appear on the cover of TIME Magazine for their June 1968 issue.
- The talented music artist has performed at the inaugurations of Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
- Franklin has been inducted into the NAACP Hall of Fame, the Apollo Theater Legends Hall of Fame, and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
She was given many honors for her philanthropy, talent, and activism.
Franklin was raised to be very active in social justice causes. Since her father and his church were closely associated with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., activism was always close to her heart. Her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, feminist movement, the arts, and many other causes led her to receive several honors and awards.
- She received an honorary award from Martin Luther King, Jr. for her civil rights activism and her empowerment song "Respect," which became an anthem for the movement.
- The Detroit native was named MusiCares' "Person of the Year" in 2008.
- In 2005, the inspirational artist received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush at the White House.
- NASA had an asteroid, "249516 Aretha," officially named after the famous singer in 2014.
- Franklin received honorary degrees from Harvard University in 2014. Additionally, she received honorary doctorates in music from the University of Michigan in 1987, New England Conservatory of Music in 1995, Berklee College of Music in 2006, Brown University in 2009, Yale University in 2010, and Princeton University in 2012. The successful musician also earned an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by Wayne State University in 1990 and an honorary Doctor of Law by Bethune-Cookman College in 1975.
Her goal was to study at Julliard.
Franklin dreamt of studying piano at Julliard. Franklin was a self-taught musical artist who never learned to read music since she became accustomed to piano-playing by ear.
In a 2003 interview with Vanity Fair, she confessed that her greatest regret was, "Not learning to read music. However, Juilliard is still on my mind! I've come within two blocks of the building, and my schedule would not allow for me to enroll at the time." The musician never officially enrolled at the prestigious school, but she did get close enough to her dream by taking private piano lessons with a Juilliard-trained instructor.
Her voice was officially named a natural resource.
The Department of Natural Resources of Michigan officially declared Franklin's voice a "natural resource of the state" in 1985.
"The golden voice of the 'Queen of Soul' is so precious to Michigan residents that in 1986 the Michigan Legislature declared Aretha Franklin's voice to be a precious natural resource. The strength and unique quality of her voice, not to mention her inimitable sense of rhythm and styling, have set her apart from many vocalists, earning her a permanent place in music history. Her seminal works like "Respect" and "Natural Woman" endure as treasures of our time because they possess that ineffable quality of emotional richness that one can only define as soul." The Michigan Women's Hall of Fame stated after she received the award.
Aretha Franklin is an inspiration to so many people. She led an amazing, successful life filled with so many historic moments. Her legacy of “Respect” will carry on in the hearts and lives of the millions of people who adored her.