A Look Back On The Life Of "Queen Of Soul" Aretha Franklin, Plus All The Celebs Who Paid Tribute To Her
Legendary African-American soul singer Aretha Franklin has passed away at the age of 76, leaving behind a shining legacy of musical contributions that will never be forgotten.
Born on March 25, 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee—home to the United States' most historic musical movements in blues and rock and roll—Aretha was surrounded by music all her life. Her father was a pastor and gospel singer, while her mother had also possessed musical talent.
Although her parents went their separate ways when Aretha was but a tender six-year-old, she spent this time polishing her vocal prowess and soon found herself singing in and touring with her father's church choir alongside her sisters.
The piano eventually became this multi-talented performer's instrument of choice and throughout her youth, was exposed to the likes of singer, songwriter and record bigwig Smokey Robinson, New Orleans' Mahalia Jackson a.k.a. the Queen of Gospel, as well as social and political activists Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jesse Jackson, thanks to her well-connected father. These brave and powerful people of color would prove to be great influences on the singer who had big aspirations.
Taking her dreams of musical greatness seriously, Aretha then made the choice to move to New York to begin her career before she had even turned 18. Experimenting with different record labels and producers in her journey to stardom, Aretha finally struck gold when she signed onto Atlantic Records in 1966 and partnered with the great Jerry Wexler (the journalist-turned-record producer behind the likes of Led Zeppelin, Dire Straits, Ray Charles, and The Allman Brothers).
The two produced her first Top 1 hit, "I Never Loved A Man The Way I Loved You," and just two years later, Aretha gained her industry moniker, the Queen of Soul, for her impeccable talent. By the time the 70s rolled around, Aretha's name had become synonymous to widely recognized songs like "Respect," "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman," "I Say a Little Prayer," and "Think." Her 1972 album, Amazing Grace, would subsequently become the world's best-selling gospel album.
Besides her musical successes at this time, Aretha simultaneously became an icon of the era's feminist and civil rights movement, with many of her songs serving as anthems of racial, gender, and sexual liberation and freedom.
The 80s would later on give way to a musically transformed Aretha, one that managed to integrate the decade's era for post-disco sounds and pop and her naturally powerful vocals that allowed her to retain her popularity. Having solidified a reputation in the industry, Aretha became the first woman to be inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, with numerous accolades to follow.
In the 90s, she received multiple Grammy awards (she has a total of 18), a Lifetime Achievement Grammy and Kennedy Center Honors, plus the release of her biography, Aretha: From These Roots. Come the new milliennium, Aretha was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and was recognized for being one of the few American artists who could boast of having chart-toppers in every decade.
At this point in her life, Aretha was not only admired for her talent, but for her personal triumphs, too; her unstable adolesence, early pregnancies, abusive first marriage, divorces, and the tragic death of her father were all public knowledge, yet she had remained strong, focused, and driven throughout the turbulence.
The mother of four sons continued performing up to the early 2010s until her failing health took its toll. An advanced form of pancreatic cancer was what eventually extinguished the life of this artistic giant, truly to the dismay of her friends, family, and all the artists she had influenced in her six-decade career.
Many of today's singers are mourning the death of this icon who paved the way for artists to emerge, and even dream that they could one day be something, to start. As a last farewell to Aretha, we rounded up the most touching tributes to the one and only Queen of Soul penned by her fellow artists, all of whom will keep her legacy alive through their own artistic pursuits.
#ArethaFranklin ???? Your energy, your smile, your presence. I remember spending time with you at the Clinton inaugural event. I’ll never forget how special I felt performing at the same event. Thank you Queen. Love you. May the almighty receive you with open arms. pic.twitter.com/GFjPuc8FRl— LLCOOLJ. (@llcoolj) August 16, 2018
This photo was taken in 2012 when Aretha & I performed at a tribute celebration for our friend Marvin Hamlisch. It’s difficult to conceive of a world without her. Not only was she a uniquely brilliant singer,but her commitment to civil rights made an indelible impact on the world pic.twitter.com/Px9zVB90MM— Barbra Streisand (@BarbraStreisand) August 16, 2018
I’m sitting in prayer for the wonderful golden spirit Aretha Franklin.— Ms. Ross (@DianaRoss) August 16, 2018
Salute to the Queen. The greatest vocalist I've ever known. ???????????????????? #Aretha— John Legend (@johnlegend) August 16, 2018
Aretha Franklin was a force behind the scenes during the civil rights movement— donating concert proceeds, posting bail for activists, hosting fundraisers and using her platform to promote voting rights. And she empowered generations of women with her music. #rip #ArethaFranklin pic.twitter.com/3nyuwNvED9— Kristen Clarke (@KristenClarkeJD) August 16, 2018
The loss of @ArethaFranklin is a blow for everybody who loves real music: Music from the heart, the soul and the Church. Her voice was unique, her piano playing underrated – she was one of my favourite pianists. pic.twitter.com/ug5oZYywAz— Elton John (@eltonofficial) August 16, 2018
The Queen of Soul has left this earth to sit on her throne in heaven. How blessed we were to hear the best that God had to offer in her voice. RESPECT!— Lenny Kravitz (@LennyKravitz) August 16, 2018
??: Mark Seliger pic.twitter.com/v9OxtyrZ74
Aretha helped define the American experience. In her voice, we could feel our history, all of it and in every shade—our power and our pain, our darkness and our light, our quest for redemption and our hard-won respect. May the Queen of Soul rest in eternal peace. pic.twitter.com/bfASqKlLc5— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 16, 2018
Watching Aretha Franklin perform at the White House, and on so many other occasions, made time stand still. @BarackObama and I are holding Aretha’s family in our hearts right now. She will forever be our Queen of Soul. pic.twitter.com/NhHsbKijpl— Michelle Obama (@MichelleObama) August 16, 2018
Aretha Franklin. The Queen of Soul. The Icon. The ultimate singers' singer. The greatest singer and musician of my lifetime. The power of your voice in music and in civil rights blew open the door for me and so many others. You were my inspiration, my mentor and my friend. You showed me I could sing the songs I wanted to sing and bring God with me. You've inspired millions everywhere yet never left home, never left church. Today the entire world mourns your home-going and celebrates all the brilliance you left behind. I will forever cherish the moments I spent in your presence. Your indelible impact was earned not only by your incomparable voice but by your bigger than life personality, wit and humor. I say a BIG prayer for you. You will forever have all our RESPECT. Love, Mariah ♥?
I treasured every moment that we spent together from working in the recording studio, to performing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, or simply hangin’ in the kitchen, & I will miss her dearly. RIP Ree-Ree...You will reign as the Queen forever. pic.twitter.com/Gyr3q13n8P— Quincy Jones (@QuincyDJones) August 16, 2018
I'm saddened to learn that Aretha Franklin has passed.The most soulful and inspirational singer of our time. / Je suis attristée d'apprendre le décès d’Aretha Franklin. La chanteuse la plus inspirante de notre époque. - Céline xx…— Celine Dion (@celinedion) August 16, 2018
?? : Kevin Mazur https://t.co/3Tz7G2W205 pic.twitter.com/Q5DtmJ1IVa
This is the face of a young man who couldn't believe he was actually singing with the GREATEST OF ALL TIME. Thank you, Ms. Franklin for blessing us with your incomparable gift. Honored to have shared the stage with you even for a moment. Always bowing down to you. #QueenofSoul pic.twitter.com/4bZVAWcqeS— Justin Timberlake (@jtimberlake) August 16, 2018
Let’s all take a moment to give thanks for the beautiful life of Aretha Franklin, the Queen of our souls, who inspired us all for many many years. She will be missed but the memory of her greatness as a musician and a fine human being will live with us forever. Love Paul #PaulMcCartney #ArethaFranklin Photo by @lindamccartney #LindaMcCartney
I am deeply saddened about the passing of the Queen of Soul and my sister in song, Aretha Franklin. Today the world has experienced a tremendous loss. Aretha was a rare treasure whose unmatched musical genius helped craft the soundtrack to the lives of so many. My sympathy, love and prayers go out to her family, loved ones and fans around the globe. ?
Goodbye Ms. Aretha. You were my idol. The greatest singer of all time. Every note you sang was pure and authentic and pierced our hearts with joy and pain and life.— Idina Menzel (@idinamenzel) August 16, 2018
For as long as I can remember, Aretha Franklin has been the absolute zenith, the guiding light, the master for any girl that aspired to sing or even just appreciated someone at the top of their game. I was blessed to have sung with her on more than one occasion and each time I felt that I was in the presence of musical royalty that would forever raise the bar and set the standard. Long live the Queen of Soul through her extraordinary & singular voice and her indelible music. ?????? Desde que tengo uso de razón, Aretha Franklin ha sido el cenit absoluto, la luz de guia, la maestra para cualquier niña que soñaba con cantar o simplemente apreciaba a alguien en la cima de su profesión. Fui bendecida de poder cantar con ella en más de una ocasión y cada vez supe que estaba en la presencia de realeza musical que por siempre elevaría el listón y marcaría el estándar. Que vivía la Reina de “Soul” a través de su voz extraordinaria y singular y su música indelible...????
Rest peacefully #ARETHAFRANKLIN I imagine u in heaven performing & still making people souls move just like you did here on soul train???? this was my aunt favorite record #RockSteady she played all the time!you will always be the Queen of Soul you been that before many of us were born! Thank you for giving us LEGENDARY TIMELESS music & showing us what it takes to have LONGEVITY & displaying UNDENIABLE talent???? artist can learn so much from going back & watching and listening to your body of work & your LEGACY that has transcended through many generations! You CREATED YOUR OWN LANE...?????? We Love You #RESPECT
Aretha the Queen. Aretha Franklin epitomized that fierce black woman soul with just enough touch of pain in her vibrato, to make every human bow down to those precious vocals that only she could produce. May the heavens above shout with eternal pride, R-E-S-P-E-C-T!— Tyra Banks (@tyrabanks) August 16, 2018
Mourning the loss today of @ArethaFranklin who shared her spirit and talent with the world. She deserves not only our RESPECT but also our lasting gratitude for opening our eyes, ears and hearts. Rest in eternal peace, my friend.— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) August 16, 2018
The moment I wake up, before I put on my make up, I say a little prayer for you— Chance The Rapper (@chancetherapper) August 16, 2018
Today has always been a hard day for me, and now the “Queen Of Soul” Aretha Franklin has left us, this loss saddens my heart not only was she a fellow Memphian, but she was also my inspiration to sing ?? pic.twitter.com/amLqmcGvri— Lisa Marie Presley (@LisaPresley) August 16, 2018
Aretha was such a timeless inspiration to me and so many others, the ultimate queen, thank you for the gift of your voice, music and unshakeable soul ???? pic.twitter.com/me3FXBY4WZ— Christina Aguilera (@xtina) August 16, 2018
Photos from @arethasings