Celebrated and known worldwide as the Queen of Soul. Despite the fact that she was one of the most famous people on the planet with one of the most distinctive voices the music industry has ever heard, there are still a few things that seem surprising about Aretha Franklin’s remarkable life.
- Born Aretha Louise Franklin on March 25, 1942, in Memphis, Tennessee, she learned to play piano entirely by ear. She was self-taught, but came to it naturally, as her mother was a fine pianist and singer herself.
- Aretha’s mother passed away before Aretha reached age 10. Several women stepped up to help take care of the Franklin kids, including gospel legend Mahalia Jackson.
- Aretha’s father was a preacher and gospel singer, and visitors to the Franklin household included the likes of Sam Cooke, James Cleveland, Clara Ward, Jackie Wilson, and the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
- One of the hits for which Aretha became best known, “Respect,” was originally recorded in 1967 by Otis Redding, who wrote the song.
- In 1987, Aretha was the first female artist to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She was also inducted into the Gospel Music Association’s Hall of Fame, the NAACP Hall of Fame, the Apollo Theater Legends Hall of Fame, and the UK Music Hall of Fame.
- Aretha performed at the inauguration of no less than three U.S. presidents: Jimmy Carter (1977), Bill Clinton (1992), and Barack Obama (2009).
- Aretha gave a command performance before Queen Elizabeth II at Royal Albert Hall in 1980.
- At her peak, Aretha boasted an astonishing four-octave vocal range.
- Aretha was nominated for Grammy Awards 44 times, with 18 wins and three additional special Grammys to her credit.
- On Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the Greatest Singers of All Time, Aretha Franklin is number one.
—Eric Skelly for the Houston Symphony 2022
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