“You cannot define a person on just one thing. You can’t just forget all these wonderful and good things that a person has done because one thing didn’t come off the way you thought it should come off.” ~Aretha Franklin
On August 16, 2018, legendary singer and songwriter Aretha Franklin passed away at the age of 76 at her home in Detroit, Michigan. With a voice rooted in Blues, Gospel, and R&B, Aretha Franklin was one of the greatest singers of all time. Her musical talents gained her numerous accolades and awards throughout her career. Franklin received several Grammys, American Music Awards, NAACP Image Awards, and a TV Land’s Music Icon Award. She was also the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 and Rolling Stone magazine named her as one of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time and one of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.
Aretha Franklin had many hit songs that were a part of the soundtrack of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. Her music dealt with themes of relationships, politics, social justice, and respect. There are too many memorable albums and songs to list. A select few of her studio albums include I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You on Atlantic Records, which produced “Respect,” “Dr. Feelgood,” “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man,” and “A Change is Gonna Come.” Another hit album was Lady Soul that was released in 1968. It included “Chain of Fools,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” and “Ain’t No Way.” In 1972, Franklin released Young, Gifted and Black that had such hits as “Day Dreaming,” “Rock Steady,” and “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.” In addition to those hit albums, Franklin had many hits songs such as “Think” (1968), “I Say a Little Prayer” (1968), “Bridge over Troubled Water” (1971), “Spanish Harlem” (1971), “Until You Come Back to Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do)” (1973), “Something He Can Feel” (1976), “Jump to It” (1982), and “Freeway of Love” (1985).
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Franklin continued creating new music and performing across the country. She collaborated with other artists that included the Eurythmics on “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves” and George Michael on “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me).” Franklin had a cameo in the movie The Blues Brothers in 1980, and sang a version of the theme song for A Different World television show. In 1998, she also released “A Rose is Still a Rose,” a song that was written and produced by Lauryn Hill.
Aretha Louise Franklin was born on March 25, 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee. After the family relocated to Detroit, Michigan, Franklin began singing in her father’s church. By age 12, Franklin was singing solos in the choir at New Bethel Baptist Church and at age 14, she recorded her own version of “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.” Growing up, Franklin experienced a difficult childhood, but was fortunate enough to be surrounded by some influential people. Her mentors as a teen included Mahalia Jackson, James Cleveland, and the Staples’ family. But, it was the encouragement of Sam Cooke that led Franklin to New York to pursue a professional singing career. She managed to get a deal with Columbia Records in 1960, and recorded “Today I Sing the Blues” and “Won’t Be Long.” However, the relationship with Columbia Records did not work out and she ended up signing with Atlantic Records in 1966. On this label, she wrote and recorded many of her most popular hits.
The National Archives and the Presidential Libraries holds several documents, photographs, and video recordings of Aretha Franklin. She performed “God Bless America” at President Jimmy Carter’s Inaugural Gala in 1977. Franklin also performed at inauguration events for President Bill Clinton in 1993 and in 1997. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in 2005. In 2009, she sang “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” at the Inauguration of President Barack Obama and performed at several White House events during his administration.
We would like to thank our colleague Steven Booth, Archivist at the Barack Obama Presidential Library, for his help and providing images courtesy of the Barack Obama Presidential Library.