30 Photos Of Aretha Franklin Through The Decades
The late legendary Aretha Franklin’s voice and legacy will forever live in our hearts. A powerful vocalist whose beautiful songs captured the experiences of Black women and people who stood for love and freedom throughout the decades made her mark on this world with songs like, “Respect,” “You Make Me Feel Like (A Natural Woman),” and countless others.
The undisputed Queen of Soul was a Grammy Award Winner, a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and countless other awards, accolades, and honorary degrees, Franklin lived quite a life. Check out some photos of the icon throughout the years and learn more about her timeless legacy.
1. From the churches of Detroit
The Queen of Soul was actually born in Memphis, Tennessee on March 25, 1942. However, by the time she was five, her parents separated, and she relocated to Detroit, Michigan. Franklin’s mother who was a piano player went to Buffalo, New York, but Franklin moved with her father, Clarence LaVaughn “C.L.” Franklin who was a Baptist minister.
Next: An early loss.
2. A motherless child
There are rumors that Franklin’s mother, Barbara Franklin abandoned her family. However, that was not the case. Barabara did move to Buffalo to get away from her philandering husband. However, she often visited her children in Detroit, and Franklin recalled visiting her mother over the summer.
Unfortunately, Barbara Franklin died of a heart attack on March 7, 1952, just before Aretha’s tenth birthday. Franklin and her siblings were raised by their father, grandmother Rachel and, legendary singer Mahalia Jackson.
Next: A start in the Baptist church
3. Church origins
C.L. Franklin was somewhat of a celebrity preacher. He earned thousands of dollars for sermons in various churches across the country. Since he was a pretty big name Franklin grew up in a home often visited celebrity figures, among them gospel musician Clara Ward, James Cleveland, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Jackie Wilson, and Sam Cooke.
Just after her mother’s death, Franklin began singing solos at her father’s church, New Bethel Baptist.
Next: Learning music without reading notes.
4. Playing by ear
Franklin was much more than a vocalist, she was also a gifted musician. She taught herself to play the piano by ear before she turned twelve by listening to jazz records. When Franklin was 12, her father began managing her, bringing her on the road with him during his “gospel caravan” tours where she performed in various churches.
Next: An early connection with a soul legend.
5. A famous childhood bestie
Growing up in Detroit, the home of Motown, Franklin came across many folks who would also be stars and celebs in their own right. Her brother was best friends with Smokey Robinson, and eventually, the two formed their own friendship. After Franklin’s death, Robinson said, “This morning my longest friend in this world went home to be with our father. I will miss her so much but I know she’s at peace.”
Next: A mother almost her entire life.
6. A very young mother
Many people know that the late-legendary Aretha Franklin was a mother to four sons. However, many people don’t know that she had he first two sons, Clarence and Edward when she was just 12 and 14 respectively. Clarence was born on January 28, 1955, and named after the “Think” songstress’ father.
Her second son, Edward was named after his father, Edward Jordan. As Franklin’s career began to take off, her sons were raised by her grandmother Rachel and sister Erma. Franklin did not like to discuss her early pregnancies during interviews.
Next: Her biggest cheerleader
7. An encouraging push
Franklin’s father was also a singer, and he encouraged Aretha to sing at church and with him during speaking and musical engagements. By the time she was 12, C.L. was officially Franklin’s manager. In 1956, it was the “Rock Steady” singer’s father who helped her sign her first recording deal with J.V.B. Records, where her first album, Songs of Faith, was released.
Next: The voice of a movement
8. A Civil Rights activist
Franklin’s father was dedicated to Civil Rights which sparked a fire inside of the legendary singer. In fact, Dr, Martin Luther King, Jr. was so taken by Franklin and her searing rendition of hymns that she went on tour with Dr. King when she was just 16.
Next: A student of life and experience.
9. A high school dropout
According to legendary producer Quincy Jones, while Franklin was still young, Dinah Washington let him know, “Aretha was the “next one”. Barely in her teens, Franklin was already looking to take her career to the next level and school was getting in the way of that. She decided to leave school officially her sophomore year of high school to pursue music fulltime.
Later on, she would earn two honorary doctorates of music, from Berklee College of Music and Yale University.
Next: Her first secular album
10. The Columbia era
In 1960, when she was just 18, Franklin got her first big break. With the help of her father, she signed her first major record deal with Columbia Records. In Jan. 1961, Franklin released her first secular album, Aretha: With The Ray Bryant Combo. Her song “Won’t Be Long” charted in the R&B Top 10.
Though Franklin was gaining recognition, she was not quite yet the international sensation that she would grow to become.
Next: Making some noise
11. Crossing over
Later that year, it was Franklin’s, “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody” that made her an international sensation. Her voice was a stunning blend of soul and gospel, unlike anything anyone had ever heard before.
“Rock-a-Bye” was only the beginning.
Next: From G2 to E6
12. Getting into the vocal range
During her time at Columbia, Franklin achieved modest success. It wasn’t until she headed to Atlantic Records in 1966, when she released the songs “Respect,” “Chain of Fools,” “Think,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” and “I Say a Little Prayer” that she skyrocketed to fame.
Franklin’s gift is what kept her pushing forward in the early days of her career. She had a vocal range of four octaves. She could also sing from G2 to E6, which is almost unheard of for most singers. Meanwhile, we can’t even sing on key.
Next: The queen and her men
13. The husbands
Franklin married her first husband, Ted White in 1961 when she was just 19 years old. White happened to be her manager, so as you can imagine the marriage as not healthy. Though they had one son together, Ted White, Jr., the marriage was tumultuous and riddled with domestic violence. Franklin separated from White in 1968, divorcing him in 1969.
The songstress would go on to marry actor Glynn Turnman on April 11, 1978, at her father’s church. The pair divorced in 1985, but they remained friendly.
Next: The voice of a legendary sitcom
14. An iconic theme song
Though she and Turnman had been divorced for several years by the time The Cosby Show spin-off, A Different World debuted in 1987, they remained friendly. This is probably why Turnman was able to call in a favor and get Franklin to sing the theme song for the iconic series from its sophomore season forward.
Next: Gaining traction
15. Her first number one hit
In November 1966, after six years with Columbia, Franklin chose not to renew her contract with the company and signed to Atlantic Records. That move would give her the success she had been working for. In 1967 Franklin released, “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” which peaked at number one on the R&B chart and number nine on the Billboard Hot 100.
However, it was “Respect” which she released later that year that changed everything.
Next: The song that changed everything.
Written by late Otis Redding, who had released his version of the song in 1965, Franklin’s rendition of “Respect” put an entirely new meaning on the song. Franklin added the phrase “Sock it to me,” to the song as well as the spelling of “respect.”
Coming from a Black woman, the song became a symbol for civil rights and Black feminism. It became the number one song on both the R&B and Billboard Hot 100 charts. The song would become the Queen of Soul’s anthem, and she would win two Grammys for it.
Next: Some top-selling albums
17. The sound of soul
In 1968, Franklin debuted the top-selling albums Lady Soul and Aretha Now, which included some of Franklin’s most popular hit singles, including “Chain of Fools,” “Ain’t No Way,” “Think,” and “I Say a Little Prayer.” The same year Franklin appeared on the cover of Time Magazine with the caption, “The sound of soul.”
Next: Some bumps along the way
18. Some career hiccups
Though Franklin continued to have massive success in the early ’70s especially with her acclaimed albums Spirit in the Dark, and Young, Gifted, and Black, and her gospel album, Amazing Grace. However, by 1975 her albums and songs were no longer top sellers, so she decided to leave Atlantic Records and signed to Clive Davis’ Arista Records in 1980.
Next: A terrible attack
19. A devastating loss
Tragedy marked Franklin’s transition to Artista Records. In 1979, her father C.L. Franklin was shot in his home during an attempted robbery. He fell into a coma and remained comatose until his death in 1984.
She would also lose her siblings during the 1980s and into the 200os. Her brother Cecile who acted as her manager after she divorced Ted White maintained that position until his death from lung cancer on December 26, 1989. Her sister Carolyn died in April 1988 from breast cancer, while her eldest sister Erma died from throat cancer in September 2002.
Next: An aversion to the skies
20. A major phobia
Though she was fearless when it came to her music and her ionic sound, Franklin had one major phobia. After a traumatizing and turbulent flight in the early ’80s, the Queen of Soul vowed never to get on a plane again. She didn’t for three decades.
Frankin even turned down a performance for Queen Elizabeth II because her fear was too great. Instead, she took a tour bus everywhere she went.
Next: Not a fan of the limelight
21. A very private person
If you know anything about Aretha Franklin, then you know she gave it to you straight, and she was known to throw a bit of shade. Hopefully, you had thick skin if she was talking about you. However, the Quen of Soul was also a very private person, and she kept her private life to herself. In addition to not talking about her early pregnancies, she also refused to discuss her personal life including her father’s traumatic death.
Next: A close bond
22. A famous goddaughter
Though she wasn’t technically the late-Whitney Houston’s godmother, the two women were extremely close, and Houston referred to Franklin as such. In fact, when the “I Will Always Love You” songstress died in 2012, Franklin was supposed to sing at her funeral. Unfortunately, she had a medical condition that prevented her from attending.
Next: Moving on with Arista
23. A younger sound
One of the reasons why Franklin went to Arista in the 1980s is because she wanted to have a younger sound. She achieved that with Who’s Zoomin’ Who? It was her first Arista album to be certified platinum. The album sold well over a million copies thanks to “Freeway of Love,” the album’s title track which is quite a bop and “Another Night.”
This was also the era where she sang for her life on the A Different World theme song.
Next: “The Blues Brothers”
24. Her sole film role
Unlike other artists of today and past decades, Franklin pretty much stayed in music. However, her sole film role was in 1980’s The Blues Brothers. The “Think” icon starred as a waitress and completely stole the show. John Belushi told People magazine she “knocked everyone out.” He said, “She’s a fine, fine actress, and I’d work with her again anytime.” Though there were whispers about Franklin getting a Best Supporting Actress nomination at the Oscars, she wasn’t nominated. However, Franklin said, “I was very pleased with my performance.”
Next: Shinnning in a new decade
25. Sucess in the ’90s
By the ’90s, Franklin proved she was still very much at the top of her game. In 1998 with the Lauryn Hill-produced song “A Rose Is Still a Rose,” she found herself in the Top 40 once more. Her album also aptly titled A Rose Is Still A Rose went gold that year.
Next: A sensational honor
26. The first woman in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
In 1987, Franklin became the first woman (ever) to be inducted into the Rock in Roll Hall of Fame. Though she was not in attendance, her brother accepted the award for her saying, “This is the greatest night of them all because Aretha has been written into history,”
She will forever stand in history alongside greats like Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, and Little Richard.
Next: Singing for three Presidents
27. The Presidents’ favorite lady
Franklin had the distinguished honor of performing at three President’s inaugurations. In 1977 she performed “God Bless America” at Jimmy Carter’s night-before-the-inauguration celebration at the Kennedy Center. In 1993, Franklin headlined a two-hour concert during Bill Clinton’s inauguration festivities where she sang “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Misérables. Finally, in 2009, she sang “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” at Barack Obama’s inauguration.
Next: All about that hat
28. The hat that rang around the world
At President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009, Franklin’s vocals were not the only thing that took center stage. She also donned a Swarovski-crystal-studded hat that set the internet ablaze. It made the hat’s creator, Seoul-born Luke Song a worldwide sensation. Franklin knew Song’s work because he had become famous amongst the Black church circles in Detroit, Franklin’s hometown, but the bow was a moment on its own.
Next: Stepping back
Though she had never announced her illness publicly, Franklin’s rapid weight loss in 2017, was startling. She also announced her retirement in Feb. of that year. She told a local television station in Detroit, “I am retiring this year. I will be recording, but this will be my last year in concert.”
Her final album was A Brand New Me: Aretha Franklin (with The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra).
Next: Goodbye to a legend
30. Pancreatic cancer
Though her illness was never specified until after her death, the late, Aretha Franklin passed away on August 16, 2018, at the age of 76 from pancreatic cancer. Cancer was the same illness that had taken nearly all of her siblings before her.