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Aretha Franklin Biography
in full Aretha Louise Franklin
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Singer, performer. Born Aretha Louise Franklin on March 25, 1942, in Memphis, Tennessee. Her father was Baptist preacher Reverend Clarence La Vaughan “C.L.” Franklin, and her mother Barbara Siggers Franklin was a gospel singer. The fourth of five children, Franklin’s parents separated by the time she was six; four years later, her mother succumbed to a heart attack. Guided by C.L.’s preaching assignments, the family relocated to Detroit, Michigan. C.L. eventually landed at Detroit’s New Bethel Baptist Church, where he gained national renown as a preacher.
Franklin’s musical gifts became apparent at an early age. Largely self-taught, she was regarded as a child prodigy. A gifted pianist with a powerful voice, Franklin sang in front of her father’s Detroit congregation. By the age of 14, she recorded some of her earliest tracks at the church. She also performed with C.L.’s traveling revival show and, while on tour, she befriended gospel greats such as Mahalia Jackson, Sam Cooke and Clara Ward.
Life on the road exposed Franklin to adult behaviors and at the age of 15, she became a mother. Her second child followed two years later. After a brief hiatus she returned to performing, and followed heroes like Cooke and Dinah Washington into pop and blues territory. With her father’s blessing, Franklin traveled to New York in 1960. After being courted by several labels, including Motown and RCA, Aretha signed to Columbia Records. She released The Great Aretha Franklin for the label that same year.
In 1961, the single “Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody” hit No. 37 on the pop charts. Franklin had a few top 10 singles on the R&B charts, but they failed to showcase the talent evident in her gospel music. She and new husband-cum-manager Ted White decided a move was in order, and Franklin moved to Atlantic in 1967. Atlantic producer Jerry Wexler immediately shuttled Franklin to the studios at the Florence Alabama Musical Emporium.
Paired with sidemen trained in soul, blues, rock and gospel—including session guitarists Eric Clapton and Duane Allman—Aretha recorded the single “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You).” In the midst of recording sessions, White quarreled with a member of the backing band, and White and Franklin left abruptly. As the single became a massive top 10 hit, Franklin re-emerged in New York, and was able to complete the partially recorded track, “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man.”
Franklin cemented her reign in 1967 and 1968 with a string of hit singles that would become enduring classics. In 1967, the album “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)” was released. The first song on the album, “Respect,” an empowered cover of an Otis Redding track, reached No. 1 on both the R&B and pop charts, and won Aretha her first two Grammy awards. She also had top 10 hits with “Baby I Love You,” “Think,” “Chain of Fools,” “I Say A Little Prayer,” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.”