Mike Bryan, A&E Editor
The inimitable “Lady Soul,” Aretha Franklin, has passed away in Detroit at the age of 76 from pancreatic cancer.
Known for her gospel-charged soul music, she had an impressive run of hits in the 1960’s — including “Respect,” “I Never Loved a Man,” “Chain of Fools,” “Baby I Love You,” “I Say a Little Prayer,” “Think,” and “The House that Jack Built,” amongst others. Franklin’s gospel inspirations came from an early source, the Detroit church of her father, where she sang with her sisters who both went on to recording careers of their own.
Even though Franklin’s style would have been perfect for Motown Records, she recorded with Columbia, Atlantic, and Arista instead, before forming her own music company in later life, and finishing her career with RCA. By the late 1960’s, she was an international pop star, with a string of Top Ten hits in less than two years, followed by medium- and large- sized hits for the next five years. Known for her first-class originals, Franklin also recorded a slew of covers, including everyone from The Beatles to Sam Cooke to Simon & Garfunkel.
During the 1970’s, Aretha Franklin continued to wear the mantle of “Lady Soul,” with releases like “Spanish Harlem,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” and “Day Dreaming” becoming huge hits. It is not well known, but she played the keyboard and produced some of her own songs as well. Franklin landed a few more hits at the end of the 1970’s, and when her Atlantic contract ended, she signed with Arista Records.
This move scored her even more number one R&B hits with “Jump to It,” “Get It Right,” and “Freeway of Love.” In the 1980’s she charted a few duets with the likes of Luther Vandross and George Michael, but none of the albums following this time were ever as popular as her earlier material. One of her most notable performances in the 1980’s is in the film The Blues Brothers.
During the 1990’s, Franklin continued to be considered the “Queen of Soul,” even releasing a Lauryn Hill-produced track that was yet another hit. In the new century, she maintained her place in the spotlight with spectacular performances at the Grammys, the Super Bowl, and Obama’s inauguration. More recently, Franklin continued to stay relevant with a cover of Adele, another performance at a major NFL game, and a TV appearance on Saturday Night Live.
Suffice it to say, even in her older age, Aretha Franklin did not slow down or give up. She continued to record and perform, leaving us with numerous notable performances.
Over the course of her incredible career, Aretha Franklin charted hit after hit, and became a household name. Franklin recorded 112 charted singles on Billboard, including 77 Hot 100 entries, 17 top ten pop singles, 100 R&B entries and 20 number-one R&B singles, thus becoming the most charted female artist in the chart’s history. She also had 18 Grammy’s. Not only was Franklin the first woman inducted into the US Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, she was also inducted in the UK Music Hall of Fame, the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, and has been named by Rolling Stone Magazine as one of the greatest artists and greatest singers of all time.
Aretha Franklin will always remain “Lady Soul,” or the “Queen of Soul.” Franklin left an indelible mark on the face of modern R&B, rock and roll, and soul music. In an interview with The New York Times in 2007, she said her father had told her she “would sing for kings and queens.”
“Fortunately I’ve had the good fortune to do so,” she added. “And presidents.”
Her musical contributions will be lauded for generations to come.