“It’s been two years ago that one of the greatest artist that ever lived pass away. There will never ever be another Aretha Franklin.”In Remembrance: Aretha Franklin, March 25, 1942 – August 16, 2018
My dearest, my dearest of all darlings, I know, I know, I know, I know we’ve got to part, Baby, baby, baby, baby, baby
It really doesn’t hurt me that bad, yeah, Because you are taking me with you, And I’m keeping you right here in my arms.
Call Me– Aretha Franklin
I don’t know where to start… I sat down in front of this screen and all I can think of is ” she gone.” Nothing we can write or say, would ever convey what and how we feel. I never wanted to write this story. I only know, “It breaks my heart when your’e not there.” I was raised in Washington DC. My parents came to Chocolate City in 1955. I was 6 months. We didn’t have much and for a time stayed with family and friends. The other day I was listening to Don Lemon as he describe his experiences with the Queen of Soul and something he said took this old man back to the house he grew up in on 2nd Street N.W. I saw a young boy and his brothers playing in the living room, his mom in the kitchen cooking, and there near the front door, a console TV with a record player built in. You could smell the food all over the house… Don said there were four things most black families had in there houses and he was right. A picture of Jesus, a picture of John Kennedy, a picture of Martin Luther King and an album by Aretha Franklin. I can still hear it… “Cause I ain’t never, I ain’t never, I ain’t never, no, no loved a man, the way that I, I love you”
Aretha Louise Franklin was born March 25, 1942 and died August 16, 2018. She was born at 406 Lucy Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee, to Barbara (née Siggers) and Clarence LaVaughn “C. L.” Franklin. Her father was a Baptist minister and circuit preacher originally from Shelby, Mississippi and her mother was an accomplished piano player and vocalist. The family relocated to Buffalo, New York, when Aretha was two. Before her fifth birthday, in 1946, C. L. Franklin permanently relocated the family to Detroit, Michigan where he took over the pastorship of New Bethel Baptist Church. Aretha’s parents had a troubled marriage due to stories of her father’s philandering and in 1948, the couple separated. Contrary to popular belief, her mother did not abandon her children; not only did Aretha recall seeing her mother in Buffalo during the summer, but Barbara also frequently visited her children in Detroit. Aretha’s mother died of a heart attack on March 7, 1952, before Aretha’s tenth birthday. ( I would have loved to hear her mother sang.) Aretha’s mother did not take the children with her when she separated. Her parents both had children, three in total, from outside their marriage. Aretha’s grandmother, Rachel, and Mahalia Jackson took turns helping with the children at the Franklin home. During this time, Aretha learned how to play piano by ear. Yep, you heard right.. Mahalia Jackson helped raise Aretha Franklin. Just after her mother’s death, Franklin began singing solos at New Bethel, debuting with the hymn, “Jesus, Be a Fence Around Me.” When Franklin was 12, her father began managing her, bringing her on the road with him during his “gospel caravan” tours for her to perform in various churches. He helped his daughter sign her first recording deal with J.V.B. Records, where her first album, Songs of Faith, was released in 1956. Franklin sometimes traveled with The Soul Stirrers during this time. The Soul Stirrers were a gospel music group. The group was a pioneer in the development of the quartet style of gospel, and a major influence on soul, doo wop, and Motown, genre’s that owed much to gospel. Sam Cook was the lead vocal for the group from 1950 thru 1956.
In 1958, Franklin and her father traveled to California, where she met Sam Cooke. At the age of 16, Franklin went on tour with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and in 1968 sang at his funeral. During the 60’s Aretha met with great success, scoring her first top 40 single with her rendition of the standard, “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody”, which also included the R&B hit, “Operation Heartbreak”, on its b-side. “Rock-a-Bye” became her first international hit, reaching the top 40 in Australia and Canada. By the end of 1961, Franklin was named as a “new-star female vocalist” in DownBeat magazine. It was in the 70’s that I officially hit the other side 18 and it was in the 70’s that I realized Aretha was taking the world by storm. Franklin’s debut Atlantic album, I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, became commercially successful, later going gold. Franklin scored two more top-ten singles in 1967, including “Baby I Love You” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”. Franklin’s rapport with producer Jerry Wexler helped in the creation of the majority of Franklin’s peak recordings with Atlantic. In 1968, she issued the top-selling albums Lady Soul and Aretha Now, which included some of Franklin’s most popular hit singles, including “Chain of Fools”, “Ain’t No Way”, “Think” and “I Say a Little Prayer”. That February, Franklin earned the first two of her Grammys, including the debut category for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. On February 16, Franklin was honored with a day named for her and was greeted by longtime friend Martin Luther King Jr. who gave her the SCLC Drum Beat Award for Musicians just two months before his death. Franklin toured outside the US for the first time in May, including an appearance at the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam where she played to a near hysterical audience who covered the stage with flower petals. She appeared on the cover of Time magazine in June of 1968. By the latter 70’s, Aretha’s fame was waning. Her career began to experience problems while recording the album, Hey Now Hey, which featured production from Quincy Jones. Despite the success of the single “Angel”, the album bombed upon its release in 1973. Franklin continued having R&B success with songs such as “Until You Come Back to Me” and “I’m in Love”, but by 1975 her albums and songs were no longer top sellers.
In 1978 she and Curtis Mayfield teamed up to do the soundtrack to the film Sparkle. The album yielded Franklin’s final top 40 hit of the decade, “Something He Can Feel”, which also peaked at number one on the R&B chart. Franklin’s follow-up albums for Atlantic, including Sweet Passion(1977), Almighty Fire (1978) and La Diva (1979), bombed on the charts. During the 80’s, the Diva came back, but not as popular as before. In 1980, after leaving Atlantic Records, Franklin signed with Clive Davis’s Arista Records. She also had an acclaimed guest role as a waitress in the 1980 comedy musical The Blues Brothers. Franklin’s first Arista album, Aretha (1980), featured the No. 3 R&B hit “United Together.” The follow-up, 1981’s Love All the Hurt Away, included her famed duet of the title track with George Benson, and for the first time in seven years—with the 1982 album Jump to It. The album’s title track was her first top-40 single on the pop charts in six years. There were a few more hits in the 80’s, including “Who’s Zooming Who,” which became her first Arista album to be certified platinum and “I Knew You Were Waiting for Me”, her international number-one duet with George Michael. In 1998, Franklin returned to the top 40 with the Lauryn Hill-produced song “A Rose Is Still a Rose”, later issuing the album of the same name, which went gold. That same year, Franklin earned international acclaim for her performance of “Nessun Dorma” at the Grammy Awards. Her final Arista album, So Damn Happy, was released in 2003 and featured the Grammy-winning song “Wonderful”. In 2004, Franklin announced that she was leaving Arista after more than 20 years with the label.
Aretha dealt with weight issues for years. During a phone interview with the Associated Press in late August 2013, Franklin stated she had a “miraculous” recovery from her undisclosed illness but had to cancel shows and appearances until she was at 100% health, estimating she was about “85% healed”. She did manage to do a couple of shows that year. In 2018, Franklin canceled a series of shows citing doctor’s orders. Franklin’s final performance was at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City during Elton John’s 25th anniversary gala for the Elton John AIDS Foundation on November 7, 2017. Stevie Wonder, Jesse Jackson, and ex-husband Glynn Turman, among others, visited her on her deathbed. Franklin died at her home on August 16, 2018, aged 76 from pancreatic cancer.
Well that’s it… that’s most of her story… but not all of it. Long after we are dust, there will be people talking about and listening to the music of the incomparable, Ms. Aretha Franklin.