Some are born into royalty. Others marry into it. But, there was one who accomplished a feat that had never been done before to earn a seat on the throne and to respectfully be crowned the “Queen of Soul” - Aretha Louise Franklin.
“Being the Queen is not all about singing, and being a diva is not all about singing. It has much to do with your service to people. And your social contributions to your community and your civic contributions as well,” Franklin said in a past interview.
Franklin’s succession to the throne began as a 10-year-old prodigy singing solos and playing the piano at New Bethel Church, where her father Clarence LaVaughn (C.L.) Franklin was a preacher.
“Like my father, the church always gave me a special kind of love,” Franklin wrote in her autobiography,” From These Roots.
It was the love of singing that swayed Franklin’s father to include Aretha in his gospel caravan tours and to manage her career early on.
Signed to JVB Records, Aretha released “Songs of Faith” in 1956. At 18, she crossed over to secular music and signed with Columbia Records showcasing her diverse musical styles that included jazz, blues, doo-wop, and rhythm and blues. She released Aretha: With The Ray Bryant Combo in 1961. Her first single, “Won’t Be Long” landed on the Billboard Hot 100 charts and reached No. 7 on the R&B chart. The release of "Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody" gained her first top 40 single in the U.S., Australia and Canada. From 1962 to 1966, several singles charted.
A radio personality at WVON announced that Franklin should be crowned “The Queen of Soul” during a performance at the Regal Theater in the 1960s.
Despite of the early proclamation and nominal commercial success of her projects at Columbia, Franklin wasn’t happy. She reportedly felt that her gospel roots weren’t being utilized to enhance her musical sound.
When Columbia’s contract expired in November 1966, Franklin moved to Atlantic Records in January 1967. She scored her first No. 1 single on the R&B chart with "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)" and peaked at No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100. Her creative version of Otis Redding's "Respect" reached No. 1 on both the R&B and pop charts. It later became the anthem for the civil rights and feminist movements.
Franklin’s debut album, I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, at Atlantic earned four top 10 singles. Her next two albums released in 1968, Lady Soul and Aretha Now, earned the first two of her Grammys and the Southern Christian Leadership Council Drum Beat Award for Musicians. Civil Rights Leader Martin Luther King Jr., a long-time friend, also honored Franklin on Feb. 16 with a day named in recognition of her.
Twelve albums were released at Atlantic with her live gospel recording, Amazing Grace, selling over 2 million copies. In 1971, she became the first R&B performer to headline at the Fillmore West. Three albums released from 1977 to 1979 failed to chart, prompting Franklin to leave the label in 1979.
Sales were revived after Franklin signed with Arista Records, under Clive Davis, in 1980. Franklin received international attention, when she delivered a spectacular performance in front of Queen Elizabeth at the Royal Albert Hall in London. She also gained a guest role as a waitress in the hit musical comedy, Blues Brothers. Her debut album on Arista, Aretha, featured the single "United Together" and reached No. 3 on the R&B chart. In 1982, Jump to It earned Franklin her first gold-certified album in seven years. The release of Who's Zoomin' Who? in 1985 became Franklin’s first Arista album to be certified platinum.
An international spotlight shined on Franklin, when she filled in for Luciano Pavarotti, who had taken ill, during an operatic performance of "Nessun dorma" at the MusicCares events. Over one billion people watched, as Franklin left viewers in awe and received a standing ovation. She would later record the song and perform it before Pope Francis at the World Meeting of Families in Sept. 2015.
After spending 20 years at Arista, Franklin severed ties. She would later sing the national anthem at Super Bowl XL in Detroit in 2006. Other notable performances include performing at President Barack Obama's inaugural ceremony, the Late Show with David Letterman, Oprah Winfrey Show, and the Kennedy Center Honors.
Franklin’s seat on the throne was solidified by her numerous honors which included winning 18 Grammy Awards, receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, having her voice declared as a natural resource in Michigan, becoming the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, becoming the second woman inducted into the UK Hall of Fame, being named MusiCares Person of the Year, being inducted into the GMA Gospel Music Hall of Fame, and having asteroid 249516 Aretha named in her honor. She is also the recipient of several honorary degrees by several universities, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and a Grammy Legend Award.