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August 16, 2018

Talk with your students about Aretha Franklin: They all know the Queen of Soul





Read the summary below, first. Then watch the video and answer the discussion questions. Teaching tip: To help students follow along, turn on the closed captions function marked “CC” or read the transcript hereTo learn more about the life of Aretha Franklin, read this story here.




On August 16, 2018, legendary singer Aretha Franklin, the ‘Queen of Soul,’ died of cancer at her home in Detroit, Michigan, at the age of 76. Funeral services are being held in Detroit on Friday, August 31, 2018. Over the course of a seven-decade music career, Franklin won 18 Grammy awards and had 17 top hits with songs like Respect, (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman and Say a Little Prayer. Franklin fought for civil rights throughout her life and was given an award by Martin Luther King in 1968. She sang at King’s funeral just two months later. In 1987, she became the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In November 2015, NewsHour’s Gwen Ifill (who passed away in November 2016) interviewed Franklin after an event at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. Franklin had just been awarded the “Portrait of a Nation” prize. 


Play these three Franklin songs for your students and ask if they see any themes running throughout them:

Answer the discussion questions as a class, in your journal or with a partner.


1. Essential question: How do musicians shape a society’s culture?


2. Were you familiar with Aretha Franklin growing up? Why do you think Franklin’s music resonated with so many people, especially the 1967 hit Respect?


The National Portrait Gallery honored Aretha Franklin, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015, as part of its first Portrait of a Nation Prizes, a new award it will give periodically to people whose images appear in its collection. Gwen Ifill interviewed the Queen of Soul later that night. Photo by Margaret Myers

3. At the end of an interview by NewsHour’s Gwen Ifill with Franklin in 2016, Ifill asks if the Queen of Soul will ever retire. Franklin responds: 


“That wouldn’t be good, for one, just to go somewhere and sit down and do nothing. Please. No, that’s not moi,” she said.


Why do you think Franklin was so against the idea of retiring? What qualities do you think Franklin possessed that made her want to keep singing?


If you would like to watch the full interview, see below:

Media literacy extension activity:


Reflect upon the images of Aretha Franklin through her many decades as a musician. Be sure to read the captions as well.

  • How do the images help us learn about Franklin’s life?

  • What might the photographs not be able to tell us about Franklin’s life?

  • Can you think of a special picture you have of someone you admire. What makes the picture special to you?

Seated portrait of R&B singer Aretha Franklin during her youth. Photo by Getty Images/Bettman

Soul singer Aretha Franklin holds a copy of her “Soul ’69” album in the Atlantic Records studios on January 9, 1969, in New York City, New York. Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Aretha Franklin performs on the opening night of a run of shows at the Aladdin in Las Vegas, Nevada, June 21, 1978. Lee McDonald/Las Vegas News Bureau/Handout via REUTERS

U.S. President George W. Bush presents his Presidential Medal of Freedom to soul legend Aretha Franklin at a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington on November 9, 2005. REUTERS/Jason Reed

Aretha Franklin sings during the inauguration ceremony for President-elect Barack Obama in Washington, January 20, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Reed

Aretha Franklin performs “Never Gonna Break My Faith” at the 50th Annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles February 10, 2008. REUTERS/Mike Blake

Before the start of Detroit’s annual Thanksgiving game against Minnesota in 2016, Aretha Franklin sang the national anthem for about 4 minutes and 30 seconds.

Aretha Franklin performs during the commemoration of the Elton John AIDS Foundation 25th year fall gala at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, in New York, U.S. November 7, 2017. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Singer Aretha Franklin performs at the Candie’s Foundation 10th anniversary “Event to Prevent” benefit in New York May 3, 2011. The aim of the organization is to prevent teenage pregnancy. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

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