Aretha Franklin, one of the most famous and revered soul singers of all time, died on Thursday morning surrounded by family and friends after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.
The First Lady of Soul, began her singing career shortly after her mother’s death, singing gospel and hymns on the “gospel caravan tour” around various churches in and around the American south. During this time she released her first commercial works with The Caravans and The Soul Stirrers.
Upon turning 18, Aretha confided to her father and manager C. L. Franklin that it was time for her to follow her idol (and sometimes crush) Sam Cooke to RCA Records. However, wanting a more ‘established label’ to represent his daughter, C. L. signed Aretha to Columbia Records where she had intial successes with the gospel “Today I Sing the Blues” and her first secular hit “Won’t Be Long”.
It wasn’t until 1967 that Aretha really started to see big commercial success. After opting out of her contract with Columbia, Franklin signed with Atlantic Records. In January of that year she traveled to the famed Muscle Shoals, Alabama to record at the now legendary FAME Studios. Those sessions resulted in her fist No. 1 hit, “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You”, and another top 40 hit in “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man”.
Aretha’s time at Atlantic Records was unquestionably the peak of her career success as producer Jerry Wexler came on board to help create her most seminol tracks, incluing, “Baby, I Love You,” “Chain of Fools,” “Think,” “I Say A Little Prayer,” and “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman.”
Following her departure from Atlantic records in 1980, Aretha signed with Arista and pursued a more younger, modern sound and by 1985 her album Who’s Zoomin’ Who? became her first album to be certified platinum, selling well over a million copies.
In recent years, Franklin has performed The Star Spangled Banner with Aaron Neville and Dr. John at Super Bowl XL, in her hometown of Detroit, started her own record label called Aretha’s Records, and continued touring widely up until 2017 when she finally announced that she would retire following an unreleased recording with Stevie Wonder.
As one of the true giants of soul music, Aretha Franklin epitomized soul. Her intelligence, flexibility, skillful piano playing, ear, experience and powerful mezzo-soprano voice, she was described by Jerry Wexler right at the beginning of her career as a “ecsatic hierophant.”
She received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1979, and was the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
Named the best singer of all time by Rolling Stone in 2013, she received 18 Grammy awards over the course of her career.