As we get older, the icons of our youth sadly begin to pass away. We recently lost another: the amazingly talented Aretha Franklin.
As I was growing up in the U.K. in the 1970s and 1980s, the Queen of Soul was not really as much a part of my life as she was for my husband growing up in the Midwest in the 1960s and 1970s. I personally became aware of her talent when she appeared on the 1985 single “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves” with the British synthpop duo Eurythmics.
I was a huge fan of this group, and the hit made me explore her earlier music that had passed me by in my youth, including “Respect,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and “I Say a Little Prayer.” Franklin continued to release albums and perform throughout the whole of her life, and it is impossible to overstate her accomplishments.
She had a tough start in life.
Born in Memphis, Tennessee, but growing up in the North — mainly in Detroit — Franklin started singing as a child in her preacher father’s church. Tragedy found its way into her life when she lost her mother at the age of 10. She became a mother early, having two sons before her 16th birthday, and she had a difficult first marriage to her manager, Ted White, that ended in divorce in 1969 when she was 27. It is widely reported that she struggled with her weight and self-esteem, family problems and financial issues to the point that one of her producers, Jerry Wexler, referred to her as “our lady of mysterious sorrows.”
She talked in later years of drawing on her difficult early life to find the emotion behind her songs and performances. In many ways, these experiences set the stage for this powerful woman’s story of success and accomplishment.
Much has been written about her life and music in recent weeks, but what an incredible story it is. She has hundreds of awards, honors and achievements. Here are just a few:
• She had 20 No. 1 hits on the R& B charts.
• In 1987, she became the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
• Winner of 18 Grammy awards, she was the recipient of the both the Grammy Lifetime Achievement and Living Legend awards.
• In 2005, President Bush awarded her The Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor.
• In 2008, Rolling Stone Magazine named her the No. 1 Singer of All Time.
She kept her career vibrant over the years through many collaborations, including with Gladys Knight, Adele, Diana Ross and Alicia Keys. In 1980, her appearance in the movie “The Blues Brothers” introduced her music to an entirely new generation of music lovers. For more information visit www.arethafranklin.net.
“American history wells up when Aretha sings” said President Obama in 2015 after hearing her perform “A Natural Woman” at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. I heartily agree!
God bless America, and rest in peace, Queen of Soul!