The phrase “pay your respects” has never been truer than it is today. This morning, the queen of R.E.S.P.E.C.T, Aretha Franklin, passed away at age 76. It is reported that her cause of death was advanced pancreatic cancer.
Franklin was born in March 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee, but relocated to Detroit, Michigan, when the destined superstar was 5, where they lived throughout most of her childhood. Her father was a preacher and her mother an accomplished pianist and vocalist. Her parents had a strained marriage — in 1948 they separated, and Franklin lived primarily with her father.
Her father, C.L. Franklin, was known for his powerful and moving sermons, and soon reached celebrity status. He earned thousands of dollars for his sermons, which he spoke across the country. He even became close friends with Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. during this time. During his travels, he brought a young Franklin with him to sing at the churches he spoke in, acting as her manager.
When she was 18, Franklin confided in her father that she wished to sing pop music. He got her a deal with Columbia records, and Franklin was a fast hit. Today, we are able to look back on her decades-long career and marvel at her many soul hits, such as “Respect,” “(You Make Me Feel) Like a Natural Woman” and “Think.”
Franklin and her father were, through their connection to MLK, deeply involved in the civil rights movement. The Franklins donated large sums of money to the movement, and some of Franklin’s singing proceeds went to it as well. Franklin was an outspoken woman in her lifetime; she is quoted as saying, “We all require and want respect, man or woman, black or white. It’s our basic human right.”
Franklin had a difficult personal life. Her mother died when she was very young, and Franklin dropped out of high school during her sophomore year. She had four sons, the first of which she had when she was just 12. Her first marriage, which began when she was 19, was turbulent and often violent. Her second marriage ended in divorce as well. In 1979, her father was shot twice at his home, an event from which he never fully recovered, and died in 1984.
Despite her hardships, her undeniably powerful voice and kindness toward others led her to an incredible career. Franklin was the recipient of 18 Grammy awards, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, several honorary degrees from prestigious universities and was placed at No. 1 on Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Singers of All Time” list.
She was also the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and sang at President Obama’s inauguration. Regarding Franklin, Obama said, “American history wells up when Aretha sings. Nobody embodies more fully the connection between the African-American spiritual, the blues, R&B, rock and roll — the way that hardship and sorrow were transformed into something full of beauty and vitality and hope.”