Singer. Born March 25, 1942, in Memphis, Tennessee. Often when the word "legendary" is used to describe someone of outstanding achievement, the heyday is long gone, and that person is known for resting on past laurels. Not so for the "Queen of Soul," singer Aretha Franklin. The winner of 17 Grammy Awards and numerous other honors began her prodigious career as the embodiment of 1960s soul music and continued to top the charts into the 1990s. Later in that decade, she branched out into producing films and videos and announced that she would release her autobiography--a long-awaited moment for many fans. Franklin moved to Detroit, Michigan, at age two with her famed minister father and gospel singer mother. She was the fourth of five children: the older siblings were Vaughan, Erma, and Cecil (who managed Aretha's career for many years), and the younger was Carolyn. Her mother, Barbara Franklin, died when she was ten, so Clarence La Vaughan Franklin (known as C. L.) encouraged his daughter's talents, and it is to whom that she attributes much of her vocal education. Reverend Franklin also stood by her when she later decided to sing popular music instead of gospel. Guests at the Franklin house included celebrities like Mahalia Jackson, Clara Ward, Dinah Washington, B. B. King, Lou Rawls, and Sam Cooke. James Cleveland helped the Franklin girls form a gospel group that appeared in local churches for a few months. Aretha sang her first solo at age 12 in her father's church, New Bethel Baptist in Detroit, and by age 14 was on the road with her father's touring revival. This experience exposed her to drinking and other adult activities, however, and by age 15 she had her first child and gave birth again two years later. During this time, she recorded her first solo performance on Chess Records, a powerful set of hymns with a vocal quality that belied her age. At age 18, Franklin set out for New York City to forge a name as a blues singer just like her idol, Dinah Washington. John Hammond at Columbia Records, who had also signed legendary blueswomen Billie Holiday and Bessie Smith, was bowled over by Franklin's voice and signed her to a five-year contract. She released her first album for Columbia in the fall of 1960, The Great Aretha Franklin. Although some of the singles made it on the charts, no overwhelming success resulted from these tracks, probably due to the poor choice of material on the part of the label.
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Aretha Franklin biography
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