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Aretha Franklin

(b. 1942) American soul and gospel singer


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(b. 1942), gospel, jazz, pop, and rhythm and blues singer.

Aretha Franklin was born in Memphis, Tennessee, and grew up in Detroit, Michigan. Her father, Rev. Clarence LaVaugh Franklin, was a gospel singer. Aretha was raised by him and a household of housekeepers and family friends including Clara Ward, James Cleveland, and Mahalia Jackson. She began singing in her father's church choir at the age of twelve. She recorded her first album, Songs of Faith, when she was fourteen years old. At an early age she was labeled a “young genius” because of the strength and unique quality of her voice. In 1960, Franklin moved to New York City to pursue a career as a rhythm-and-blues singer. Although she refuses to discuss intimate details of her personal life, her music itself is autobiographical. Songs like “Respect”, “Think”, and “Try a Little Tenderness” reveal the pain and frustration she has experienced in her life. (She recorded “Respect” after separating from her first, abusive husband, Ted White.) Today Franklin is one of the most celebrated singers in American music. She has won at least fifteen Grammy Awards, including the 1993–1994 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1985, the state of Michigan declared her voice a “natural resource” in honor of her twenty-fifth year in the music business. In 1987, she became the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The “Queen of Soul” has been compared to other great blues singers like Dinah Washington, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday. Blues singers maintain an iconic importance in African American poetry, drama, and fictive narrative. In African American literature they often figure as sensual women who utilize music as a liberating tool to communicate pain, suffering, desire, sexuality, and joy in an environment that normally represses female expression. Nikki Giovanni's “Poem for Aretha”, for example, is included in Re: Creation (1970), a book of poetry that advocates African American women's need for self-empowerment and self-sustenance in a spiritually destructive world. Part of “Poem for Aretha” refers to the way “we [society] eat up artists like there's going to be a famine.” Writers like Giovanni are inspired by Franklin's signature voice and strive to project their own distinctive voices in their work.

Mark Brego, Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, 1989.Virginia C. Fowler, Nikki Giovanni, 1992.Mark Bego, Arethat Franklin, 2001.Craig Werner, Higher Ground: Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Curtis Mayfield, and the Rise and Fall of American Soul, 2004.Michael Awkward, Soul Covers, 2007.

Alisha R. Coleman

Subjects: Music.


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