Aretha Louise Franklin was born in Memphis, Tennessee, the daughter of Barbara (nee Siggers) and Clarence LaVaughn Franklin. Her father, who went by the nickname, "C. L.", was an itinerant preacher originally from Shelby, Mississippi, while her mother was an accomplished piano player and vocalist. Alongside Franklin, her parents had three other children while both C. L. and Barbara had children from outside their marriage. The family relocated to Buffalo, New York when Franklin was two. Before her fifth birthday, C. L. Franklin permanently relocated the family to Detroit, Michigan where he founded the Baptist church, New Bethel. Franklin's parents had a troubled marriage due to stories of C. L. Franklin's philandering and in 1948, they separated, with Barbara relocating back to Buffalo with her son, Vaughn, from a previous relationship.
Contrary to popular notion, Franklin's mother did not abandon her children; not only would Franklin recall seeing her mother in Buffalo during the summer, Barbara also frequently visited her children in Detroit. Franklin's mother died on March 7, 1952, before Franklin's tenth birthday. Several women, including Franklin's grandmother Rachel, and Mahalia Jackson took turns helping with the children at the Franklin home. During this time, Franklin learned how to play piano by ear. Franklin's father's emotionally driven sermons resulted in him being known as the man with the "million-dollar voice" and earning thousands of dollars for sermons in various churches across the country. Franklin's celebrity led to his home being visited by various celebrities including gospel musicians Clara Ward, James Cleveland and early Caravans members Albertina Walker and Inez Andrews as well as Martin Luther King, Jr., Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke.
Just after her mother's death, Franklin began singing solos at New Bethel, debuting with the hymn, "Jesus, Be a Fence Around Me". Four years later, when Franklin was 14, her father began managing her, bringing her on the road with him during his so-called "gospel caravan" tours for her to perform in various churches. He helped his daughter get signed to her first recording deal with J.V.B. Records, where her first album, Songs of Faith, was issued in 1956. Two singles were released to gospel radio stations including "Never Grow Old" and "Precious Lord, Take My Hand". Franklin sometimes traveled with The Caravans and The Soul Stirrers during this time and developed a crush on Sam Cooke, who was then singing with the Soul Stirrers before his secular career.
After turning 18, Franklin confided to her father that she aspired to follow Sam Cooke to record pop music. Serving as her manager, C. L. agreed to the move and helped to produce a two-song demo that soon was brought to the attention of Columbia Records, who agreed to sign her in 1960. Franklin was signed as a "five-percent artist". During this period, Franklin would be coached by choreographer Cholly Atkins to prepare for her pop performances. Before signing with Columbia, Sam Cooke tried to persuade Franklin's father to have his label, RCA sign Franklin. He had also been courted by local record label owner Berry Gordy to sign Franklin and her elder sister Erma to his Tamla label. Franklin's father felt the label was not established enough yet. Franklin's first Columbia single, "Today I Sing the Blues", was issued in September 1960 and later reached the top ten of the Hot Rhythm & Blues Sellers chart.
In January 1961, Columbia issued Franklin's debut album, Aretha: With The Ray Bryant Combo. The album featured her first single to chart the Billboard Hot 100, "Won't Be Long", which also peaked at number 7 on the R&B chart. Mostly produced by Clyde Otis, Franklin's Columbia recordings saw her recording in diverse genres such as standards, vocal jazz, blues, doo-wop and rhythm and blues. Before the year was out, Franklin scored her first top 40 single with her rendition of the standard, "Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody", which also included the R&B hit, "Operation Heartbreak", on its b-side. "Rock-a-Bye" became her first international hit, reaching the top 40 in Australia and Canada. By the end of 1961, Franklin was named as a "new-star female vocalist" in Down Beat magazine. In 1962, Columbia issued two more albums, The Electrifying Aretha Franklin and The Tender, the Moving, the Swinging Aretha Franklin, the latter of which charted number 69 on the Billboard Pop LPs chart.
By 1964, Franklin began recording more pop music, reaching the top ten on the R&B chart with the ballad, "Runnin' Out of Fools" in early 1965. She had two R&B charted singles in 1965 and 1966 with the songs "One Step Ahead" and "Cry Like a Baby" while also reaching the Easy Listening charts with the ballads "You Made Me Love You" and "(No, No) I'm Losing You". By the mid-1960s, Franklin was netting $100,000 from countless performances in nightclubs and theaters. Also during that period, Franklin appeared on rock and roll shows such as Hollywood A Go-Go and Shindig!. However, it was argued that Franklin's potential was neglected at the label. Columbia executive John H. Hammond later said he felt Columbia did not understand Franklin's early gospel background and failed to bring that aspect out further during her Columbia period.
In January 1967, choosing not to renew her Columbia contract after six years with the company, Franklin signed to Atlantic Records. That month, she traveled to Muscle Shoals, Alabama to record at FAME Studios to record the song, "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)" in front of the musicians of the famed Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. The song was later issued that February and shot up to number-one on the R&B chart, while also peaking at number nine on the Billboard Hot 100, giving Franklin her first top ten pop single. The song's b-side, "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man", reached the R&B top 40, peaking at number 37. In April, Atlantic issued her frenetic version of Otis Redding's "Respect", which shot to number-one on both the R&B and pop charts and later became her signature song and was later hailed as a civil rights and feminist anthem.
Franklin's debut Atlantic album, I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, also became commercially successful, later going gold. Franklin scored two more top ten singles in 1967 including "Baby I Love You" and "(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman". Franklin's rapport with producer Jerry Wexler helped in the creation of the majority of Franklin's peak recordings with Atlantic. In 1968, she issued the top-selling albums, Lady Soul and Aretha Now, which included some of Franklin's most popular hit singles including "Chain of Fools", "Ain't No Way", "Think" and "I Say a Little Prayer". In February 1968, Franklin earned the first two of her Grammys including the debut category for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. On February 16, 1968, Franklin was honored with a day in her honor and was greeted by longtime friend Martin Luther King, Jr. who gave her the SCLC Drum Beat Award for Musicians just two months before his death. In June 1968, she appeared on the cover of Time magazine.
Franklin's success expanded during the early 1970s in which she recorded top ten singles such as "Spanish Harlem", "Rock Steady" and "Day Dreaming" as well as the acclaimed albums, Spirit in the Dark, Young, Gifted & Black and her gospel album, Amazing Grace, which sold over two million copies. In 1971, Franklin became the first R&B performer to headline Fillmore West, later recording the live album, Aretha Live at Fillmore West. Franklin's career began experiencing issues while recording the album, Hey Now Hey (The Other Side of the Sky), which featured production from Quincy Jones. Despite the success of the single, "Angel", the album bombed upon its release in 1973. Franklin continued having R&B success with songs such as "Until You Come Back to Me" and "I'm in Love" but by 1975, her albums and songs were failing to become a success. After Jerry Wexler left Atlantic for Warner Bros. Records in 1976, Franklin worked on the soundtrack to the film, "Sparkle", with Curtis Mayfield. The album yielded Franklin's final top 40 hit of the decade, "Something He Can Feel", which also peaked at number-one on the R&B chart. Franklin's follow-up albums for Atlantic including Sweet Passion, Almighty Fire and La Diva bombed on the charts and in 1979, Franklin opted to leave the company.
In 1980, after leaving Atlantic Records, Franklin signed with Clive Davis' Arista Records and that same year gave a command performance at the Royal Albert Hall in front of Queen Elizabeth. Franklin also made an acclaimed guest role as a waitress in the comedy musical, The Blues Brothers. Franklin's first Arista album, Aretha, featured the #3 R&B hit, "United Together" and her Grammy-nominated cover of Otis Redding's "I Can't Turn You Loose". The follow-up, 1981's Love All the Hurt Away, included her famed duet of the title track with George Benson while the album also included her Grammy-winning cover of Sam & Dave's "Hold On, I'm Comin'". Franklin returned to the Gold standard– for the first time in seven years– with the album, Jump to It. Its title track was her first top 40 single on the pop charts in six years.
In 1985, inspired by her desire to have a "younger sound" in her music, her fifth Arista album, Who's Zoomin' Who?, became her first album to be certified platinum, after selling well over a million copies, thanks to the hits, "Freeway of Love", the title track and "Sisters Are Doing It for Themselves". The following year's Aretha album nearly matched this success with the hit singles "Jumpin' Jack Flash", "Jimmy Lee" and "I Knew You Were Waiting for Me", her international number-one duet with George Michael. During that period, Franklin provided vocals to the theme songs of the shows, A Different World and Together. In 1987, she issued her third gospel album, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, which was recorded at her late father's New Bethel church, followed by Through the Storm in 1989. Franklin's 1991 album, What You See is What You Sweat, flopped on the charts. Franklin returned to the charts in 1993 with the dance song "A Deeper Love" and returned to the top 40 with the song "Willing to Forgive" in 1994.
In 1998, Franklin returned to the top 40 with the Lauryn Hill-produced song, "A Rose Is Still a Rose", later issuing the album of the same name, which went gold. That same year, Franklin earned international acclaim for her performance of "Nessun Dorma" at the Grammy Awards. Her final Arista album, So Damn Happy, was released in 2003 and featured the Grammy-winning song, "Wonderful". In 2004, Franklin announced that she was leaving Arista after over 20 years with the label. To complete her Arista obligations, Franklin issued the duets compilation album, Jewels in the Crown: All-Star Duets with the Queen, in 2007. The following year, she issued the holiday album, This Christmas, Aretha, on DMI Records.
Franklin performed The Star Spangled Banner with Aaron Neville and Dr. John for Super Bowl XL, held in her hometown of Detroit in February 2006. She later made international headlines for performing "My Country 'Tis of Thee" at President Barack Obama's inaugural ceremony with her church hat becoming a popular topic online. In 2010, Franklin accepted an honorary degree from Yale University. In 2011, under her own label, Aretha's Records, she issued the album, Aretha: A Woman Falling Out Of Love. As of 2014, Franklin is now signed under RCA Records, controller of the Arista catalog and a sister label to Columbia via Sony Music Entertainment, and is currently working again with Clive Davis. A new album is in the works with producers Babyface and Danger Mouse planning to work with Franklin.
On September 29, 2014, Franklin performed to a standing ovation, with Cissy Houston as backup, a compilation of Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" and "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" on the Late Show with David Letterman. Franklin's cover of "Rolling in the Deep" will be featured among nine other songs in her first RCA release, Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics, which was released on October 21, 2014.
In October 2014 Franklin became the first woman to have 100 songs on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart with the success of her cover of Adele's "Rolling in the Deep", which debuted at number 47 on the chart.
Franklin has often been described as a great singer and musician due to "vocal flexibility, interpretive intelligence, skillful piano-playing, her ear, her experience." Franklin's voice has been described as being a "powerful mezzo-soprano voice" and has been praised for her arrangements and interpretations of other artists' hit songs. Of describing Franklin's voice as a youngster on her first album, Songs of Faith, released when she was just fourteen, Jerry Wexler explained that Franklin's voice "was not that of a child but rather of an ecstatic hierophant." Franklin's image went through rapid changes throughout her career. During the 1960s, Franklin was known for wearing bouffant hairdos and extravagant dresses that were sometimes surrounded enveloped in either mink fur or feathers. In the 1970s, embracing her roots, Franklin briefly wore the Afro hairdo and wore Afrocentric styled clothing admired by her peers. In the mid-1970s, after dropping weight, Franklin began wearing slinkier attire. By the 1980s, she had settled on wearing evening gowns and extravagant dresses.
After being raised in Detroit, Franklin relocated to New York City in the 1960s, where she lived until moving to Los Angeles in the mid-1970s. She eventually settled in Encino, Los Angeles where she lived until 1982. She then returned to the Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan to be close to her ailing father and siblings. Franklin maintains a residence there to this day. Following an incident in 1984, she has cited a fear of flying that has prevented her from traveling overseas; she has performed only in North America since then. The mother of four sons, Franklin gave birth to her first son, Clarence, just after she turned 14. Her first two sons' fathers have never been identified. While Franklin was pursuing her career and "hanging out with [friends]", Franklin's grandmother Rachel and sister Erma took turns raising the children. Franklin's third child, Ted White, Jr., was born in 1964 and is known professionally as Teddy Richards. He has provided guitar backing for his mother's band during live concerts.
Franklin has married twice. She married Ted White in 1961, despite objections from her father. After a contentious marriage that involved domestic violence, she divorced White in 1969. She then married her second husband, actor Glynn Turman, on April 11, 1978 at her father's church. By marrying Turman, Franklin became stepmother of Turman's three children from a previous marriage. Franklin and Turman separated in 1982 after Franklin returned to Michigan from California, and they divorced in 1984. At one point, Franklin had plans to walk down the aisle with longtime companion Willie Wilkerson. Franklin and Wilkerson had had two previous engagements stretching back to 1988. Franklin eventually called the 2012 engagement off.
Franklin's sisters Erma and Carolyn were professional musicians as well and spent years performing background vocals on Franklin's recordings. Following Franklin's divorce from Ted White, her brother Cecil became her manager, and maintained that position until his death from lung cancer on December 26, 1989. Sister Carolyn died the previous year in April 1988 from breast cancer, while eldest sister Erma passed from throat cancer in September 2002. Franklin's half-brother Vaughn died two months after Erma in late 2002. Half-sister Carl Kelley (nee Jennings; born 1940) is still alive at 74. Kelley is C. L. Franklin's daughter by Mildred Jennings, a then 12-year-old congregant of New Salem Baptist Church in Memphis, where C. L. was pastor. Franklin was performing at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas, on June 10, 1979, when her father C. L. was shot twice at point blank range in his Detroit home. After six months at Henry Ford Hospital, still in a state of coma, C.L. was moved back to his home with 24-hour nursing care. Aretha moved back to Detroit in late 1982 to assist with the care of her father, who died at Detroit's New Light Nursing Home on July 27, 1984.
Franklin has been romantically linked to many musicians, including Sam Cooke and Dennis Edwards, formerly of The Temptations. Some of her music business friends have included Dionne Warwick, Mavis Staples, and Cissy Houston, who began singing with Franklin as members of the Sweet Inspirations. Cissy sang background on Franklin's classic hit "Ain't No Way". Franklin first met Cissy's daughter, Whitney, in the early 1970s. She was made Whitney's honorary aunt, and Whitney often referred to her as "Auntie Ree". Whitney died on February 11, 2012. Franklin stated she was surprised by her death. She had initially planned to perform at Houston's memorial service on February 18, but her representative claimed that Franklin suffered a leg spasm and was unable to attend. In response to criticism of her non-attendance, she stated, "God knows I wanted to be there, but I couldn't."
Franklin is a registered Democrat. In 2014, she was granted the honorary degree of Doctor of Arts from Harvard University for her contributions to music.
Franklin dealt with weight issues for years. In 1974, she dropped 40 pounds (18 kg) during a crash diet and maintained her new weight until the end of the decade. Franklin again lost the weight in the early 1990s before gaining some back. A former chain smoker who struggled with alcoholism, she quit smoking in 1992. Franklin admitted in 1994 that her smoking was "messing with my voice", but after quitting smoking she said later, in 2003, that her weight "ballooned".
In 2010, Franklin canceled a number of concerts after she decided to have surgery for an undisclosed tumor. Discussing the surgery in 2011, she quoted her doctor as saying it would "add 15 to 20 years" to her life. She denied that the ailment had anything to do with pancreatic cancer as it was rumored. On May 19, 2011 Aretha Franklin had her comeback show in the Chicago theatre. In May 2013, Franklin canceled two performances to deal with an undisclosed medical treatment. Later in the same month, Franklin canceled three more concerts in June and planned to return to perform in July. However, a July 27 show in Clarkston, Michigan was canceled due to continued medical treatment. In addition, Franklin canceled an appearance at an MLB luncheon in Chicago honoring her commitment to civil rights on an August 24 date. She also canceled a September 21 performance in Atlanta due to her health recovery. During a phone interview with The Associated Press in late August, 2013 Franklin stated that she had a "miraculous" recovery from her undisclosed illness but had to cancel shows and appearances until she was at 100% health, stating she was "85% healed". Aretha has since returned to live performing, including a 2013 Christmas concert at Detroit's Motor City Casino. She launched a multi-city tour beginning the summer of 2014, starting with a June 14 performance in New York at the Radio City Music Hall.
Franklin received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1979, had her voice declared a Michigan "natural resource" in 1985, and became the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. NARAS awarded her a Grammy Legend Award in 1991, then the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994. Franklin was a Kennedy Center Honoree in 1994, recipient of the National Medal of Arts in 1999, and was bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005.
Franklin become the second woman inducted to the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005. She was the 2008 MusiCares Person of the Year, performing at the Grammys days later. Following news of Franklin's surgery and recovery in February 2011, the Grammys ceremony paid tribute to the singer with a medley of her classics performed by Christina Aguilera, Florence Welch, Jennifer Hudson, Martina McBride, and Yolanda Adams. That same year she was ranked among the Billboard Hot 100 All-Time top artists, and ranked first on the Rolling Stone list of Greatest Singers of All Time.
Inducted to the GMA Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2012, Franklin has been described as "the voice of the civil rights movement, the voice of black America" and a "symbol of black equality". Asteroid 249516 Aretha was named in her honor in 2014.
Franklin received an honorary degree from Harvard University in 2014, as well as honorary doctorates in music from Princeton University, 2012; Yale University, 2010; Berklee College of Music, 2006; New England Conservatory of Music, 1995; and University of Michigan, 1987. Franklin was granted an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by Wayne State University in 1990 and an honorary Doctor of Law by Bethune-Cookman College in 1975.
Black Rodeo (1972) (documentary)
The Blues Brothers (1980)
Listen Up: The Lives of Quincy Jones (1990) (documentary)
Blues Brothers 2000 (1998)
Tom Dowd & the Language of Music (2003) (documentary)
The Zen of Bennett (2012) (documentary)
Muscle Shoals (2013) (documentary)
- "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)" (1967)
- "Respect" (1967)
- "Baby I Love You" (1967)
- "Chain of Fools" (1967)
- "(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You've Been Gone" (1968)
- "Think" (1968)
- "Share Your Love with Me" (1969)
- "Call Me" (1970)
- "Don't Play That Song (You Lied)" (1970)
- "Bridge Over Troubled Water" (1971)
- "Spanish Harlem" (1971)
- "Day Dreaming" (1972)
- "Angel" (1973)
- "Until You Come Back to Me (That's What I'm Gonna Do)" (1973)
- "I'm in Love" (1974)
- "Something He Can Feel" (1976)
- "Break It to Me Gently" (1977)
- "Jump to It" (1982)
- "Get It Right" (1983)
- "Freeway of Love" (1985)