Black Music Month: Aretha Franklin

June is Black Music Month and WERS at Night will recognize black musicians, composers, singers, and songwriters who have made enormous contributions to the music industry. Today, June 16th, Secret Spot is highlighting Aretha Franklin.

Also known as The Queen Of Soul, Aretha Franklin has no doubt been one of the best R&B, jazz, gospel, and pop artists of our time. She was born March 25, 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee. Her father, Clarence LaVaughn, was a preacher who moved his family to Mississippi and then relocated to Buffalo, New York for better opportunities. They then moved and  permenetly stayed in Detroit where he opened New Bethel Baptist Church. Franklin’s parents divorced and her mother moved back to Buffalo. Franklin would spend the summer with her mother. After her mother’s sudden death when she was ten, Franklin started singing at her father’s church while also learning (by ear) to play the piano. By the age of thirteen, Franklin discovered she was pregnant with her first son, Clarence, born on March 28, 1956. By the time she was fifteen, she had her second son but wanted to continue her singing career, so her grandmother agreed to take care of the children.

Since her father was such a well-known pastor, he was recording his sermons for JVB records by his mid-fifties. By the age of fourteen, Franklin’s father recorded one of her performances at a local church which landed him an official record deal with the recording label. She recorded her first album, Songs of Faith, and also released her very first single, “Never Grow Old”. Continuing on with her gospel career by the age of seventeen, Franklin was ready to try a new genre of music – pop. Her older sister Erma wanted the same dream as well. Both Franklin and her sister eventually signed to Columbia Records. After her first single, “Today I Sung the Blues”, was released in September of 1960, it reached #10 on the Billboards R&B chart; she then released her debut album, Aretha. After a number of her singles reached the billboard, Columbia Records CEO imagined Franklin becoming the next Billie Holiday and wanted her to focus on a jazz-pop genre, but it did not reach Franklin’s talent and failed to show her background in gospel.

After signing with Atlantic Records, she was sent to FAME studios in Alabama and recorded her songs. Eventually she released her first hit “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” released in February of 1967; it topped the charts and it was known as her first real hit. Then came “Respect”, topping number one on the charts and giving Franklin her very first Grammys. She eventually won eight Grammy’s as Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for the song. During a 1967 performance in Chicago, Pervis Spann crowed Franklin as Lady Soul. After recording numerous albums (Young, Gifted, and Black), a cover with Elton John, her second gospel album, Amazing Grace, and doing work with Quincy Jones, Franklin was clearly on top. In 1976, Franklin topped charts with “Giving Him Something He Can Feel” from the movie Sparkle. She decided to move on to a different record label and left Atlantic Records. In 1980, Franklin appeared in her first movie, The Blues Brothers, where she played the wife. Later, she released her second Aretha album, where “United Together” charted number three.

Franklin continued on with her career, doing work with numerous artists, creating hits and singles for movies as well as albums, and became known all across the world as The Queen of Soul. In May of 2011, Franklin celebrated her 50th anniversary of her first album and released her 38th album A Woman Falling Out of Love, doing duets with long time friend Ronald Isley. Franklin continues to be known and will always be known as one of the best R&B singers of all time.

By Nyla Wissa

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