Aretha Franklin is one of the most influential singers in pop music history, bringing soul to a wide audience and accumulating platinum-selling hits and 18 Grammys. She was the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Franklin grew up in Detroit, the daughter of Reverend C.L. Franklin, a gospel singer and preacher. She was only 6 when her mother, Barbara, left the family (dying four years later). Aretha sang regularly at her father's New Bethel Baptist Church and was soon performing on the gospel circuit. Her fast-growing reputation as an exceptional gospel shouter began attracting outside attention, and Berry Gordy attempted to sign her to Motown.
While still a teenager, she gave birth to two sons, who were raised by her grandmother while Franklin focused on her singing career. She signed to Columbia and moved to New York, finding R&B success with her records in the early 1960s, but little crossover pop attention. She moved to Atlantic Records in 1966 and the next year released the album “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Loved You,” a hugely influential collection that tapped into her gospel roots and yielded the hit single “Respect,” which topped the pop chart. Her version of the Otis Redding song was awarded two Grammys and became an anthem of the feminist movement.
The hits and Grammys continued throughout the decade and into the early 1970s, further establishing her as the “Queen of Soul.” Top 10 hits included “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” “Chain of Fools” and “Until You Come Back to Me (That's What I'm Gonna Do).”
Though she enjoyed a No. 1 R&B hit in 1976 with “Something He Can Feel,” written by Curtis Mayfield, her hit-making streak began to falter by the mid-'70s, as disco became a dominant force in popular music. In 1979, her father was shot in a robbery and slipped into a coma until his death in 1984.
She performed “Think” on screen in “The Blues Brothers” movie in 1980, marking the beginning of renewed public awareness for the singer. She signed to Arista and in 1981 recorded a duet with George Benson, “Love All The Hurt Away,” reaching No. 6 on the R&B chart.
Her 1982 album, “Jump to It,” was produced by Luther Vandross and was called a comeback, reaching No. 1 on the R&B chart. The title song also reached the top 40 of the pop singles chart. They collaborated again on “Get It Right” the next year to disappointing results.
Aretha moved back to Detroit in 1984, and soon another career peak came in the form of 1985's “Who's Zoomin' Who?,” which included the No. 3 pop (and No. 1 R&B) single “Freeway of Love.” The album featured guest appearances by the likes of Clarence Clemons, Dizzy Gillespie and Carlos Santana, and she found herself in regular rotation for a new generation on MTV. Her next album, 1986's “Aretha,” included a cover of “Jumpin' Jack Flash” produced by Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. The next year, she released a Grammy-winning duet with George Michael, “I Knew You Were Waiting (for Me).”
She published an autobiography, “Aretha: From These Roots,” in 1999. Franklin performed at the inauguration of President Obama on Jan. 20, 2009, and drew as much attention for her hat as her reading of “My Country, 'Tis of Thee.” The hat is now in the Smithsonian.