Remembering Lady Soul
Daydreamin' and we're thinking of her.... Click though for 30 compelling reasons the Queen of Soul will never lose her crown.
Because the Inspiration for Her Singing Was Divine
Music was a religious experience for the Memphis-born daughter of a Baptist minister. Aretha Franklin grew up singing in church choirs, where her earliest fans included the legendary gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, a family friend.
Because She Hung in There
Aretha was no overnight sensation (except, of course, for the "sensation" part). Her first hit single, "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You), reached the Top 10 in 1967, 11 years after her debut album, "Songs of Faith."
Because Her Idol Was Miss Rhythm
Even the Queen of Soul looked up to someone: Miss Rhythm, Ruth Brown. "She was the singer when I was a girl," Aretha said in a 1987 interview with W magazine. She also cited contemporaries like Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, and Clyde McPhatter of the Drifters. "But Ruth Brown was my favorite," said Franklin. "It was her records I liked."
Because Her Covers Were Immortal
The Queen of Soul had a knack for taking someone else's signature song and making it all her own, from Carole King's "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" and Dusty Springfield's "Son of a Preacher Man" to Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and the Band's "The Weight."
Because One of Those Covers Sent Her Career Into Orbit
"What you want? Baby, I got it"— and how. At 25, Aretha scored her first No. 1 hit with her rollicking cover of Otis Redding's "Respect." Redding's reaction was a mix of awe and regret. "She done took my song," he told producer Jerry Wexler.
Because She Also Wrote Classic Songs
Aretha wasn't just a singer, she was a songwriter too. Franklin penned three of her biggest hits in the late 1960s and early '70s: "Think," "Rock Steady" and "Day Dreaming."
Because She Had It All
"There are three qualities that make a great singer: head, heart and throat," said Franklin's longtime producer Jerry Wexler. "The head is intelligence, the phrasing. The heart is the emotionality that feeds the flames. The throat is the chops, the voice. Aretha has all three."
Because She Won Grammy After Grammy
The Queen of Soul won 18 Grammy Awards, including six consecutive honors for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, from 1968 ("Respect") to 1973 ("To Be Young, Gifted and Black").
Because She Became a Movie Star—and Made It Look Easy
Aretha made a smooth transition from concert stage to movie screen in 1980's "The Blues Brothers." She played the feisty diner owner who sang "Think" and reminded her guitar-playing husband (Matt "Guitar" Murphy"), "They still owe you money, fool."
Because She Never Sang a Song Without Understanding It
Before Franklin agreed to a duet with the Eurythmics on the 1985 single "Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves," she asked Annie Lennox to assure her the feminist anthem wasn't actually about masturbation. "Honestly, it was not about that," said Lennox, "so we just reassured her that there was no eroticism. It's about sounding our message." The Top 20 hit appeared on two 1985 albums—Franklin's "Who's Zoomin' Who" and the Eurythmics' "Be Yourself Tonight"— and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.
Because She Truly Was a Natural Woman
In 1985, Franklin's home state of Michigan officially declared her voice "a natural resource."
Because She Inspired a Famous Artist
Aretha had way more than 15 minutes of fame. Still, she recruited Andy Warhol to do the cover portrait and an inner-sleeve line drawing for the 1986 album "Aretha."
Because the Stones Revered Her
The Rolling Stones were the backup band when Franklin played piano on her 1986 cover of "Jumpin' Jack Flash." Guitarists Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood were joined by keyboardist Chuck Leavell, who toured and recorded extensively with the Stones, and bassist Randy Jackson, the future "American Idol" judge. Richards also produced the track.
Because She Rocked Steady
Aretha landed 77 songs on the Billboard Hot 100, including 17 Top 10 hits. But she had only two No. 1 singles, 20 years apart: "Respect" in 1967 and "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)," her 1987 duet with George Michael.
Because Even Freddie Mercury Was Jealous
Freddie Mercury of Queen often sang Aretha's praises, bedazzled by her 1967 cover of "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" and the 1972 live gospel album "Amazing Grace." "I wish I could sing like her," said Mercury, revealing that Franklin influenced his vocals on Queen's gospel-tinged 1976 hit "Somebody to Love." "Her phrasing's so beautiful, so effortless." He added with a smile, "I'm mad that George Michael did a duet with her. I could've done better."
Because Rolling Stone Ranked Her No. 1
The Queen of Soul topped Rolling Stone's list of the Greatest Singers of All Time in 2008. Three years later, Franklin ranked No. 9 among the 100 Greatest Artists.
Because Her Achievements Were Recognized Long Before She Was Done
Franklin was the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 and the youngest artist ever, in 1994, to receive the Kennedy Center Honors, the annual recognition of lifetime contributions to the performing arts.
Because She Was a True Diva
Franklin wowed opera fans and the entire music world at the Grammy Awards in 1998 when she stepped in for an ailing Luciano Pavarotti and sang the world-renowned tenor's signature aria, "Nessun Dorma," from the Puccini opera "Turnadot."
Because She Elevated Hollywood Soundtracks
"The Blues Brothers" wasn't Franklin's only movie experience. She recorded the 1976 soundtrack to "Sparkle," starring Irene Cara of "Fame," and later teamed up with Mary J. Blige on "Never Gonna Break My Faith," the Grammy-winning gospel song from "Bobby," a 2006 biopic about Robert F. Kennedy's assassination.
Because She Received America's Highest Civilian Honor
Aretha wiped away tears at the 2005 ceremony where President George W. Bush presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country's highest civilian award. The citation noted that the Queen of Soul "revolutionized American music" with "her instantly recognizable voice" and thanked her for "helping to shape our Nation's artistic and cultural heritage." Franklin was among the 12 honorees in 2005, including Muhammad Ali, Carol Burnett, Andy Griffith, Jack Nicklaus and Hall of Fame baseball player Frank Robinson.
Because She Did Justice to the National Anthem
Franklin took over the world's biggest stage when she sang the national anthem before Super Bowl XL at Detroit's Ford Field in 2006. The hometown heroine was accompanied by Aaron Neville, pianist Dr. John and a 150-voice choir.
Because She Was a Grammy Ceremony Superstar
In addition to winning 18 Grammy Awards, Franklin performed at the annual ceremony eight times, a record she shares with Whitney Houston. The Queen of Soul played electric piano and sang "Bridge Over Troubled Water" at her first appearance in 1971. At her final performance in 2008, she celebrated her musical roots by singing "Never Gonna Break My Faith," the Bryan Adams-penned song that earned Franklin her final Grammy for Best Gospel Performance.
Because She Broke Records
Aretha made pop chart history in 1973 with her cover of Stevie Wonder's "Until You Come Back to Me (That's What I'm Gonna Do)." The single got as high as No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, making Franklin the first artist ever to have at least one song peak at each slot in the Top 10. Only three artists have pulled off the rare feat since then: Marvin Gaye, Madonna and Taylor Swift.
Because She Shined at a Presidential Inauguration
Not even her oversized gray hat—a felt cloche topped with a huge, rhinestone-studded bow—could upstage the Queen of Soul when she sang "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" at President Barack Obama's first inauguration ceremony on January 20, 2009.
Because She Saw Her Voice as a Gift From God
Like millions of fans, Franklin thanked God for her soulful voice. "Being a singer is a natural gift," she once said. "It means I'm using to the highest degree possible the gift that God gave me to use."
Because Even Her Last Single Resulted in Another Landmark Achievement
Aretha's 2014 cover of Adele's Grammy Award-winning hit "Rolling in the Deep" became the 100th Aretha Franklin single to score a chart position, topping Billboard's Dance Club Songs and peaking at No. 47 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop/Rap Songs chart.
Because Her Final Performance Was Unforgettable
The Queen of Soul took the stage for the final time last fall at a 25th anniversary gala for Elton John's AIDS Foundation in New York. Introduced as "the greatest singer of all time" by Sir Elton—with whom she shared the same birthday, March 25—Franklin bookended her nine-song set with her two biggest hits from the mid-1980s, "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)" and "Freeway of Love."
Because the Verdict Is Unanimous
Like casual music fans, sophisticated vocal technicians gave high marks to Franklin, a Falcon soprano with a four-octave range. "A rich, heavy and dark voice," notes CriticOfMusic.com, praising her "legendary interpretive wit," and "incredible pearl-like clarity." "A flawless balanced voice within every part of the scale," the site adds. "As she ascends, Franklin's vocal colors continue to blossom, showing off a slightly nasal but thunderous middle register. The belting register displays incredible freedom, resonance, elasticity and fluidity, soaring into a perfect mixed voice."
Because Her Music Gave Us Chills
Fifty years ago, Aretha Franklin gave everyone chills with her Top 10 cover of Dionne Warwick's "I Say a Little Prayer for You." Now it's our turn to return the title favor.
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