For part 2 of our Women’s History Month celebration we honor the unbelievable queen of soul herself, Aretha Franklin. Where do you even begin? As one of the worlds best-selling music artists ever, she sold over 75 million records, is noted as a top 10 placement in Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Artists of All Time”, received a Presidential Medal of Freedom and has been inducted into just about every musical hall of fame that matters.
Franklins career started similarly as many other gospel singers – at a church choir. For Franklin, she found a musical home at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan where her father C. L. Franklin was a minister. From a young age her father began managing her spudding career. She would join him on the road during his “gospel caravan” tours where she could perform in various churches. She would go on to sign an early record deal and record vocals and piano on her first singles “Never Grow Old” & “You Grow Closer”. During her teenage years Franklin would spend her summers on the Chicago gospel circuit and stayed with Mavis Staples’ family. According to the famed Quincy Jones, Aretha was a star even before the age of 18.
It took until 1966 for Franklins career to really take off. Producer Jerry Wexler convinced her to move from Columbia Records to Atlantic Records. He persuaded her to take advantage of her gospel background, but to employ a more “tenacious form of rhythm & blues”. For many, this was an inception point for todays soul music. The Atlantic days would lead to a series of huge hits for Aretha Franklin from 1967 to 1972. To name a few – “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)”, “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man”, “Respect” and “Day Dreaming” all released during this time. Aside from her immense presence in the world of music, Aretha Franklin was also a passionate activist and was immersed in civil rights and women’s rights campaigns. She provided funding for civil rights groups – at times covering payroll and performing at benefits and protests. Her songs Respect and (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” became anthems of the civil rights movements of the 1970s.
Aretha Franklin died four years ago after becoming gravely ill throughout 2018 – she was 76. There was a memorial service at the New Bethel Baptist Church, back where it all began for her. It’s difficult to put into words how deeply her influence spreads across the musical world. Perhaps the best way to communicate this by sharing a few of her many incredible performances. We’ve put some key performances below for your viewing and listening pleasure! ♥️
Aretha Franklin – Amazing Grace Live at New Temple Missionary Baptist Church, 1972
The way the energy in her voice builds and the choirs reaction to it….simply priceless.
Aretha Franklin – Say A Little Prayer
We can’t quite pinpoint the exact setting of this performance and the audio quality is just alright – however this video will give you a great sense of Aretha’s demeanor and vocal ability at the peak of her musical output.
Aretha Franklin – (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman (Live at Kennedy Center Honors)
An iconic song. An incredible setting. Franklin died 3 years after this performance. Her voice was a beam of light until the day she died. Thank you for all of the memories QUEEN Aretha Franklin!