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Singer, performer. Born Aretha Louise Franklin on March 25, 1942, in Memphis, Tennessee. Her father was Baptist preacher Reverend Clarence La Vaughan "C.L." Franklin, and her mother Barbara Siggers Franklin was a gospel singer. The fourth of five children, Franklin's parents separated by the time she was six; four years later, her mother succumbed to a heart attack. Guided by C.L.'s preaching assignments, the family relocated to Detroit, Michigan. C.L. eventually landed at Detroit's New Bethel Baptist Church, where he gained national renown as a preacher.

Franklin's musical gifts became apparent at an early age. Largely self-taught, she was regarded as a child prodigy. A gifted pianist with a powerful voice, Franklin sang in front of her father's Detroit congregation. By the age of 14, she recorded some of her earliest tracks at the church. She also performed with C.L.'s traveling revival show and, while on tour, she befriended gospel greats such as Mahalia Jackson, Sam Cooke and Clara Ward.

Life on the road exposed Franklin to adult behaviors and at the age of 15, she became a mother. Her second child followed two years later. After a brief hiatus she returned to performing, and followed heroes like Cooke and Dinah Washington into pop and blues territory. With her father's blessing, Franklin traveled to New York in 1960. After being courted by several labels, including Motown and RCA, Aretha signed to Columbia Records. She released The Great Aretha Franklin for the label that same year.

In 1961, the single "Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody" hit No. 37 on the pop charts. Franklin had a few top 10 singles on the R&B charts, but they failed to showcase the talent evident in her gospel music. She and new husband-cum-manager Ted White decided a move was in order, and Franklin moved to Atlantic in 1967. Atlantic producer Jerry Wexler immediately shuttled Franklin to the studios at the Florence Alabama Musical Emporium.

Paired with sidemen trained in soul, blues, rock and gospel—including session guitarists Eric Clapton and Duane Allman—Aretha recorded the single "I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)." In the midst of recording sessions, White quarreled with a member of the backing band, and White and Franklin left abruptly. As the single became a massive top 10 hit, Franklin re-emerged in New York, and was able to complete the partially recorded track, "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man."

Franklin cemented her reign in 1967 and 1968 with a string of hit singles that would become enduring classics. In 1967, the album "I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)" was released. The first song on the album, "Respect," an empowered cover of an Otis Redding track, reached No. 1 on both the R&B and pop charts, and won Aretha her first two Grammy awards. She also had top 10 hits with "Baby I Love You,'' "Think," "Chain of Fools,'' "I Say A Little Prayer," and "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman."


In 1968, Franklin was enlisted to perform at the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. She paid tribute to her father's fallen friend with a heartfelt rendition of "Precious Lord. " She also sang at the 1968 Democratic Convention. The following year, she and White divorced. Franklin performed again at the 1972 funeral of Mahalia Jackson. Spurred by Jackson's passing and a subsequent resurgence of interest in gospel music, Franklin's 1972 album Amazing Grace sold over two million units, becoming the best-selling gospel album at the time.

Franklin's success continued throughout the 70s, and as the artist took home eight consecutive Grammy awards for Best R&B Female Vocal Performance, she earned the title "The Queen of Soul." She worked tirelessly and expanded her repertoire to include rock and pop covers, but by 1975 her sound was fading in favor of the disco craze. In the wake of this new genre, an emerging set of young black singers such as Chaka Khan and Donna Summer began to eclipse Franklin's career. She found a brief respite from slumping sales with 1976's soundtrack to Sparkle, as well as an invitation to perform at the 1977 presidential inauguration. In 1978, she married actor Glynn Turman.

A string of chart failures ended Franklin's relationship with Atlantic in 1979. The same year, her father was hospitalized after a burglary attempt in his home left him in a coma. As her popularity waned and her father's health declined, Franklin was also saddled with a massive bill from the IRS. A cameo in the film The Blues Brothers (1980) helped Franklin revive her flagging career. Performing "Think'' alongside comedians John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd exposed her to a new generation of R&B lovers, and she soon signed to Arista Records. Her new label released 1982's Jump To It, an album that enjoyed huge success on the R&B charts and earned Franklin a Grammy nomination. Two years later, she endured a divorce from Turman as well as the death of her father.

In 1985, Aretha released another smash-hit album. The polished pop record Who's Zoomin' Who? featured the single "Freeway of Love," as well as a collaboration with the popular rock band the Eurythmics. The record became Aretha's biggest-selling album yet. Her follow-up album, 1986's Aretha, also went gold, and the George Michael duet "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)'' hit No. 1 on the pop charts. The next year, Franklin's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame marked the first time a woman had ever been awarded such an honor. The same year, the University of Detroit credited her with an honorary doctorate. In 1993, she was invited to sing at the inauguration of Bill Clinton, and in 1994, Franklin was given a lifetime achievement award at the Grammys. Over the next few years, she became the subject of multiple documentaries and tributes.

In 1998, Franklin reprised her former role in Blues Brothers 2000, released the gold-selling "A Rose Is Still A Rose," and stood in for Luciano Pavarotti, who was too ill to accept his Lifetime Achievement Award. Her rendition of "Nessun Dorma" commanded stellar reviews.

In 2003, Franklin released her final studio album on Arista, So Damn Happy, and left the label to found Aretha Records. Two years later, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and became the second woman ever to be inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame. In 2008, she received her 18th Grammy Award for " Never Gonna Break My Faith"—a collaboration with Mary J. Blige—and was tapped to sing at the 2009 inauguration of president Barack Obama. Most recently, Franklin's released her first album on her own label, A Woman Falling Out of Love.


© 2009 A&E Television Networks. All Rights Reserved.

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Quick Tip by . August 17, 2011
She's one of the few artists I personally believe belongs on everybody's play list.
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