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Aretha Louise Franklin (born March 25, 1942) is an American singer, songwriter and pianist commonly referred to as "The Queen of Soul". Although renowned for her soul recordings, Franklin is also adept at jazz, rock, blues, pop, R&B and gospel. She is widely acclaimed for her passionate vocal style and powerful range. In 2008, the American music magazine Rolling Stone ranked Franklin #1 on its list of The Greatest Singers of All Time.
Franklin is one of the most honored artists by the Grammy Awards, with 20 Grammys to date, which include the Living Legend Grammy and the Lifetime Achievement Grammy. She also sang at the presidential inauguration of 44th President of the United States Barack Obama. She has scored a total of 20 #1 singles on the Billboard R&B Singles Chart, two of which also became #1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100: "Respect" (1967) and "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)" (1987), a duet with George Michael. Since 1961, Franklin has scored a total of 45 "Top 40" hits on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
In 1987, Franklin became the first female artist to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Early life and career
Teenage pregnancies derailed Franklin's gospel career when she gave
birth to Clarence in 1955 (at age 13) and Edward in 1957 (at age 15).
When she returned to singing, Aretha decided to secure herself a deal as
a pop artist. After being offered contracts from Motown and RCA,
Franklin signed with Columbia Records in 1960. Her recordings during
that time reflected a jazz influence and moved away from her gospel
roots. Franklin initially scored a few hits on Columbia including her
version of "Rock-A-Bye Your Baby (With A Dixie Melody)", which peaked at
number 37 on the Billboard Pop Singles chart in 1961, and the Top 10 R&B
hits, "Today I Sing The Blues", "Won't Be Long" and "Operation
Heartbreak". However, by the end of 1966, with little commercial success
in six years with Columbia and desperate for a sound of her own, she
accepted an offer to sign with Atlantic Records. According to Franklin
years later, "they made me sit down on the piano and the hits came".
Her next single, "Respect", written and originally recorded by Otis Redding, firmly launched Franklin on the road to superstardom. Franklin's feminist version of the song became her signature tune for life, reaching #1 on both the R&B and the Pop charts—holding the top spot on the former chart for a record 8 weeks—and helping her Atlantic debut album, I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You, reach million-seller status. In the next ten months, Franklin released a number of top ten hits including "Baby I Love You", "Chain of Fools" and "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman".
In early 1968 Franklin won her first two Grammies (for "Respect"), including the first Grammy Awarded in the "Best Female R&B Vocal Performance" category. She went on to win eight "Best Female R&B Vocal Performance" Awards in a row. Over the next seven years, Franklin continued to score hit singles including "Think", "The House That Jack Built", "I Say a Little Prayer" (a cover of Dionne Warwick's hit), "Call Me" and "Don't Play That Song (You Lied)". "Spanish Harlem" reached #2 on Billboard's Hot 100 and even gave Aretha her first Top 10 Adult Contemporary (at the time labeled Easy Listening) hit.
By the end of the 1960s, Franklin's position as The Queen of Soul was firmly established. Her albums were also hot sellers; one in particular, 1972's Amazing Grace, eventually sold over two million US copies, becoming "the best-selling gospel album of all time". Franklin's hit streak continued into the mid-1970s. 1973's emotional plea "Angel", produced by Quincy Jones and written by Franklin's sister Carolyn, was a stand-out single that became yet another #1 on the R&B chart, although the subsequent album Hey Now Hey (The Other Side of the Sky) was not successful.
1974's gold-certified single "Until You Come Back to Me (That's What
I'm Gonna Do)" hit #1 R&B and #3 on the Billboard Hot 100. By 1975,
however, with the expanding exposure of Disco and the popularity of
fellow Atlantic artist Roberta Flack, relations between Franklin and
Atlantic Records were starting to strain. As a result, Aretha was
recording poor material such as 1975's listless You album, and her
record sales declined dramatically. Franklin had peaked, and the music
industry was moving on to younger black female singers such as
Cole, Chaka Khan and Donna Summer.
The following year Franklin and Vandross collaborated again on the disappointing Get It Right. But in 1985, Franklin's sound was commercialized into a glossy pop sound as she experienced her first-ever Platinum-certified album, Who's Zoomin' Who. Yielding smash hits like the Motown-influenced "Freeway of Love" (#3 Pop/#1 R&B), the title track (#7 Pop/#2 R&B), and her duet with rock duo Eurythmics, "Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves" (#18 Pop/#66 R&B), the album became the first Platinum certification of Aretha's entire career, introducing her sound to a younger generation of fans. In 1986, Franklin did nearly as well with an album simply titled Aretha, which yielded her first number-one pop single in two decades with the George Michael duet, "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)". The album is noteworthy for the striking cover which was Andy Warhol's last work before his death. Other hits included her cover of The Rolling Stones' "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and the girl group-inspired "Jimmy Lee". When Aretha was taken out of print, it had sold over 900,000 US copies.
Aretha returned to gospel in 1987 with her album One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism which was recorded live at her New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit. However, the disc was a far cry from her 1972 effort Amazing Grace and had middling sales. Follow-ups such as 1989's Through The Storm and 1991's What You See Is What You Sweat sold poorly and failed to produce any major mainstream hits—other than the former album's Elton John-featured title track—but her career got a slight boost in 1993 when she scored a dance-club hit with "Deeper Love" from the Sister Act 2: Back In The Habit soundtrack. In 1994, she scored another hit with the Babyface-produced ballad, "Willing To Forgive", which hit the Top 5 of Billboard's R&B chart and #26 on the Hot 100.
Franklin returned to prominence with her 1998 album, A Rose Is Still
A Rose. The album's mixture of urban contemporary, hip-hop soul and soul
was a departure from Franklin's previous material. The title track,
produced by Lauryn Hill, gave her a smash hit on the R&B and Pop charts
and earned a gold single while the album was certified gold also, the
first time since 1986's Aretha that any of the singer's albums went
gold. That same year, with less than twenty-four hours to prepare,
Franklin stepped in for Luciano Pavarotti to sing "Nessun Dorma" at the
1998 Grammy Awards. (Pavarotti, who was Awarded a Lifetime Achievement
Award that night, was too sick to attend.) She gave a soulful and highly
improvised performance in the aria's original key, while firmly stamping
out the year with a captivating performance during VH-1's "Divas Live"
In 1998, Franklin also took again her role of Mrs. Murphy in Blues Brothers 2000, this time singing her old hit "Respect". Like in the 1980 movie, she plays the possessive wife of the lead guitarist of the Blues Brothers Band, singing the song during a row with her husband about his joining his former band.
In 2007, Arista Records released a duets compilation album entitled, "Jewels In The Crown: All-Star Duets With The Queen." The disc features duets performed with Mariah Carey, Luther Vandross, Whitney Houston, Richard Marx, Annie Lennox, John Legend, Mary J. Blige, Frank Sinatra, George Michael, Christina Aguilera, George Benson, Fantasia, and Gloria Estefan. A duet with Faith Hill has been recorded but it's not on the album. The album includes two new recordings with Fantasia, on the lead single "Put You Up On Game" and John Legend. The lead single "Put You Up On Game" hit radio on October 1, 2007 and became the number one most added song on Urban AC radio the following week. The album also includes Aretha's historic rendition of "Nessun Dorma" from the 1998 Grammy telecast.
In 2008, Franklin was honored as MusiCares "Person of the Year," two days prior to the 50th Annual Grammy Awards, where she was Awarded her 18th career Grammy. Post-Grammy's, Miss Franklin enterted into a feud with both Beyonce and Tina Turner. This was due to the fact that Beyonce introduced Turner as 'The Queen' prior to their show-stealing duet of Proud Mary.
Franklin sang at the inauguration concerts for Bill Clinton in 1993
and at the inauguration ceremony for Barack Obama in 2009.
She is the godmother of Whitney Houston, who also grew up to be a R&B star, rising to fame in the mid-1980s, and subsequently struggling with cocaine addiction thereafter. A still image of Franklin was shown in the closing scene of Houston's 1985 video for the single How Will I Know.