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Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin
Photo: Library of Congress

Aretha Franklin

1942 -

The definitive female soul singer of the '60s, a symbol of black pride, and one of the most influential voices in the history of popular music, Aretha Franklin brought "black" music to an entirely new audience.

Aretha grew up in Detroit where her father was pastor at the New Bethel Baptist Church. She recorded her first album of gospel music at age 14. At 18, legendary talent scout John Hammond brought her to Columbia Records. Hammond later says, "Columbia was a white company who misunderstood her genius."

Voice Dramatic Mezzo-Soprano
Range Three octaves (B2-Bb5)
Grammys 16 (an unbeaten 12 for Best Vocal Performance)
Albums 19 in the ‘60s alone (11 releases ’67-’69)

In 1966, Aretha moves to Atlantic Records and immediately hits her stride, producing a phenomenal body of work. "When I went to Atlantic," she says, "they just sat me down at the piano and the hits started coming." "Respect", her trademark song written by singer Otis Redding, is an instant hit in '67, becoming an anthem for both racial pride and women's rights. Within three years, she has eight crossover hits that reach the Top 10 in both Pop and R&B charts, including "Chain of Fools", "Think", and "A Natural Woman".

On April 9, 1968, she sings Precious Lord, Take My Hand at the funeral service of her friend Martin Luther King Jr. A few months later she appears on the cover of TIME, in an article suggesting her husband/manager is abusive. A lawsuit was filed over the article, and her marriage subsequently ended in divorce. After this, she rarely talks to the media.

In 1987, at age 45, Aretha is the first woman inducted in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, having charted more records selling over a million copies than any woman in history.

The co-founder of Atlantic Records, Ahmet Ertegun, says of Aretha, "I don't think there's anybody I have known who possesses an instrument like hers and who has such a thorough background in gospel, the blues and the essential black-music idiom...the result is maybe the greatest singer of our time."

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