In the Limelight

Aretha Franklin has long been known as the Queen of Soul. With her resonating voice, powerful performances, and ability to sing in ways that move the feet and stir emotions, it’s no wonder she was given the designation. But do you know how she became the Queen of Soul?

Franklin was born on March 25, 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee. Her father was a Baptist preacher and her mother was a gospel singer. Her parents separated by the time she was six years old and her mother died following a heart attack. Franklin, her father and siblings relocated to Detroit, Michigan where he worked at New Bethel Baptist Church and gained national fame as a preacher.

Her self-taught musical talents appeared at an early age. Franklin was a gifted pianist with an incredible voice, so she sang in her father’s church. Some of her earliest tracks were recorded at the church when she was 14 years old. Then she performed with her father’s traveling revival show.

While touring she got pregnant when she was just 15 years old, then had her second child two years later. After a short hiatus she got back to performing then followed singers like Sam Cooke and Dinah Washington into pop and blues music.

Her father gave her approval to travel to New York in 1960. With a few different record companies interested in signing her, she decided on Columbia Records. That year she released The Great Aretha Franklin. In 1961 her song “Rock-A-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody” reached No. 37 on pop charts. She had a few Top 10 singles in R&B, but the songs did not utilize the power of her voice the way gospel music did.

In 1967 she and her husband-manager, Ted White, decided to switch to Atlantic. Jerry Wexler, Atlantic producer, sent her to the studios at the Florence Alabama Musical Emporium. At this point she worked with soul, gospel, blues, and rock musicians, recording “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You),” which was a Top 10 hit. Franklin went back to New York and completed recording “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man.”

Through 1967 and 1968 she released several songs that would become classics, and the album I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You). The first song was “Respect” a sassy, energy-filled cover of Otis Redding’s song, which reached No. 1 on pop and R&B charts and won two Grammys. Other Top 10 hits were “Baby I Love You,” “Think,” “Chain of Fools,” “I Say A Little Prayer,” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.”

Over the years Franklin and gospel singer Mahalia Jackson had become friends when Franklin was traveling with her father’s revival show. After Jackson passed away Franklin was inspired to record the gospel album Amazing Grace, in 1972. It sold two million copies and became the bestselling gospel album at the time.

During the 1970s she continued rising in success. She won eight consecutive Grammys for Best R&B Female Vocal Performance and it was during this time that she earned the nickname Queen of Soul.