With over 20 top R&B hits, 18 Grammy awards, and a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to her name, the "Queen of Soul" will undoubtedly be forever known as one of the greatest music legends of our time. In honor of her life, take a look back through some of Aretha Franklin's incredible achievements — in the recording studio and beyond.
Aretha Louis Franklin was born in Memphis, Tennessee, on March 25, 1942 to two talented gospel singers. Despite first living in a Southern city, she grew up mostly in Detroit, Michigan, along with her two sisters, brother, and half-brother from her mother's former relationship. Her father and well-known vocalist, Reverend Clarence La Vaughn Franklin of New Bethel Baptist Church, was a Baptist minister. Because of her father's position, Aretha began singing in the church choir at a very young age. When she was a child, her parents separated and Aretha was primarily raised by her father. In 1952, when Aretha was just 10 years old, her mother, Barbara, passed away after suffering a heart attack.
By the mid-1950s, Aretha had already taught herself piano without even knowing how to read music. She spent much of her time traveling with her father and performing in various gospel programs around the country. The gospel tour exposed her to the likes of Smokey Robinson, Clara Ward, and Mahalia Jackson. But before she could make a name for herself, Aretha became a mother to her first son, Clarence Franklin (father's name is not publicly known), just two months before turning 13 in January 1955.
One year later, her father began encouraging her to try her hand at recording music. And so, in 1956, she worked on her first jazz gospel album called "Spirituals," which was released by the small label JVB. In 1957, she had another child, Edward (Edward's father is also not known). Around the same time, Sam Cooke, a friend of her father's and the now-legendary singer, worked hard to convince Aretha that she needed to sing popular music. After deliberating with her father, Aretha dropped out of school, hoping that her big break was right around the corner.
In 1960, the 18-year-old left her life in Detroit for a new one in the Big Apple to pursue bigger labels. That same year, her incredible talent scored her a deal with Columbia Records — a move that forever changed her life. Her first album for the label was helped along by talent scout John Hammond, who was also responsible for discovering Billie Holiday. During this time, she recorded songs like "Rock-a-Bye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody."
The 1960s were a crazy time for Aretha. She released "Rough Lover," "You've Got Her," and "The Shoop-Shoop Song." She befriended, through her father's connections, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. along with Jesse Jackson. Aretha also got married to her manager Ted White and had another son, Ted White Jr., with him in 1964. Ted White Jr. went on to become a solo artist and is now known as Teddy Richards.
Despite Otis Redding's original recording of "Respect" in 1965, it wasn't until Aretha put her magical, feminist touch on it that the track soared. By 1967, Aretha had left Columbia and signed to Atlantic Records. On Valentine's Day of that year, she recorded "Respect," which flew to the top of the charts four months later. She won her first two Grammys (along with four nominations) for the track. During her time at Atlantic, she also made "I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love You)," "I Say a Little Prayer," "Chain of Fools," "Since You've Been Gone," and "(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman." By 1969, Aretha had divorced Ted White and was on to making more hit music.
By the turn of the decade, Aretha had already been on the cover of Time magazine, crowned the "Queen of Soul," welcomed her fourth son (Kecalf), had a small role in the TV Show Room 22, earned five Grammys, and was increasingly seen as a powerful feminist figure in the Civil Rights Movement. Despite battling alcoholism, she knocked out hit after hit, including "Don't Play That Song" and a rendition of "Bridge Over Troubled Water." She also went back to her roots with a gospel album in 1972 entitled Amazing Grace. In 1978, she married her second husband, actor Glynn Turman.
In 1979, her father (pictured left) was brutally robbed and shot back in Detroit. He ended up being put in a permanent coma until his death in 1984. Despite her overwhelming grief, Aretha tried hard to not let it stop her — and it didn't. In the 1980s, she appeared on a Blues Brothers blockbuster. She released "Jump to It" and "Freeway of Love" after signing with the new label Arista.
The year 1987 was life-changing. Aretha, though unable to attend the ceremony, made a landmark achievement in being the first woman ever to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “We feel that tonight is the greatest night in the life of Miss Aretha Franklin, the 'Queen of Soul',” her brother, Cecil Franklin, said when accepting the award on her behalf. “Tonight, Aretha has been written into history.”
The years following her induction were equally impressive. Aretha scored two Grammy awards for "Aretha" and "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)." The following year, she collected another statue for "One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism." In the early '90s, she collected two more Grammy awards — the Grammy Legend Award (1991) and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (1994). Other notable accomplishments include performing at the inaugural gala of President Bill Clinton, publishing her autobiography Aretha: From These Roots, and earning the National Medal of Arts award.
In 2005, the president honored the legendary artist for her work in "revolutionizing American music" and "helping to shape our nation's artistic and cultural heritage." Also to receive the award that year was Muhammad Ali, Carol Burnett, and Andy Griffith.
Like 1987, 2014 was a big one for the "Respect" icon. She released "Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics," became the first female to earn her 100th hit on the Billboard's Hot R&B song chart with "Rolling in the Deep (the Aretha Version)," and received an Honorary Doctor of Arts degree at Harvard University.
Even though in 2016 she told People that she had no plans to slow down, her tune changed one year later. After working on one final album, Aretha declared that she was cutting back on performing, though not putting down the mic forever. “I feel very, very enriched and satisfied with respect to where my career came from and where it is now,” she told WDIV Local 4 in Detroit. Her performance on November 7, 2017 at Elton John's AIDS foundation benefit marked her final one.
Aretha died on August, 16, 2018 after battling advanced pancreatic cancer.