Aretha Franklin Biography: Life and Career of the Soul Singer

Born March 25th, 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee, Aretha Franklin started off as gospel singer. After signing to Columbia Records, she found success with R&B and pop tunes such as "Respect" and "(You Make Me Feel) Like a Natural Woman". Though her best-selling album was 1972's "Amazing Grace", Franklin has continued to gain success and make her mark in music with her soulful voice and powerful performances. In this WatchMojo.com video, we take a look at the life and career of American soul singer, Aretha Franklin.
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She is the Queen of soul. Welcome to WatchMojo.com and today we’re taking a look at the life and career of Aretha Franklin.

Gospel Beginnings


Aretha Louise Franklin was born on March 25th, 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee. She started singing in church at an early age, which helped get her signed to the gospel division of Checker Records. Her debut album, Songs of Faith, was released in 1956. However, four years later, she left the gospel route and signed with Columbia Records.

First Hits


Her first single was the 1960 R&B hit, “Today I Sing the Blues”. This was followed by the album, Aretha and her first top forty pop hit, “Rock-A-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody”. In an attempt to capitalize on the artist’s love of Dyna Washington, Columbia initially fit Franlkin in the realm of jazz with albums like Laughing on the Outside. However, she later started recording girl group-type tracks such as “Mockingbird” instead. Still, success evaded her.

Crossover Success and "Respect"


So she signed a deal with Atlantic in 1966 and released the bluesy number, “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Loved You)” the next year. It became a crossover hit, peaking in the top ten of both the pop and R&B charts. This paved the way for what would become her biggest and most celebrated recording, a gospel-flavoured cover of Otis Redding’s “Respect”. This song would later earn Franklin two Grammies and became a symbol of the feminist movement.

Continued Success


The late 60’s turned Franklin into a superstar with hits such as “Think”, “Chain of Fools” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”. Her success continued well into the early ‘70’s with the tune, “Don’t Play that Song” and her gig at San Francisco’s Fillmore West, which was one of the venue’s first headlining sets by an African-American.

"Amazing Grace"


More Grammies followed with the release of 1971’s Young, Gifted &Black and 1972’s Amazing Grace. Amazing Grace also proved to be the biggest selling disc of Franklin’s career and the best-selling gospel album of all time.

R&B Hits and Disco Efforts



Franklin had a couple more R&B hits in the next few years, including “Angel”. But the rise of disco meant low album sales for Franklin. Her own foray into the disco world, 1979’s La Diva, was a commercial failure, so Franklin left Atlantic.

"The Blues Brothers" and Musical Comeback


Franklin’s film debut in 1980’s “The Blues Brothers”, was followed by a contract with Arista Records. The 1981 album, Love All the Hurt Away, earned her another Grammy and her comeback to the pop charts was cemented with the 1982 effort, Jump to It.

First Platinum Record


After a short break following her father’s death, Franklin released her first platinum-certified record. 1985’s Who’s Zoomin’ Who? mixed several genres and produced numerous hits accompanied by popular music videos. The next year, her Aretha album generated her first number-one single on the Hot 100 since “Respect”, a duet with George Michael called “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)”.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Commercial Disappointments


In 1987, Aretha Franklin became the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That same year, she released a gospel album, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, but by 1989, she had returned to the world of pop with Through the Storm. It was a commercial disappointment though, as was the jack swing-oriented record, What You See is What You Sweat. Nevertheless, Franklin contributed to several movie soundtracks in the early ‘90s and had two hits with Babyface.

Contemporary Musical Efforts


Franklin then ventured into the realm of urban contemporary music with her 1998 effort, A Rose is Still a Rose, which yielded a hit in the title track. That same year, at the 40th Grammy Awards, Franklin made an improvised performance on behalf of Luciano Pavarotti, who was unable to attend due to illness.

More Music


Her next album would only surface in 2003. So Damn Happy sold poorly, though one of its songs, “Wonderful” won Franklin another Grammy. Next up was a 2007 duet album called Jewels in the Crown: All-Star Duets with the Queen, followed by her first holiday record, 2008’s This Christmas, Aretha.

Illness and Return to Music


In 2009, Franklin sang “My Country ‘tis of Thee” at the inauguration ceremony of U.S. president Barack Obama. Though she continued working on new material, Franklin had to put making music on hold at the end of 2010 due to a sudden illness. However, she was soon back on her feet and in 2011, she released the album A Woman Falling Out of Love on her label Aretha’s Records.

The Queen of Soul


Aretha Franklin is a one-of-a-kind artist who has more than well deserved the recognition she has received. With her powerful, soulful voice and rich discography, she has been revered by countless musicians and will surely continue to be for a long, long time.
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