Obituary: Aretha Franklin Survived A Turbulent Childhood And Made The World R-E-S-P-E-C-T Her


Obituary: Aretha Franklin Survived A Turbulent Childhood And Made The World R-E-S-P-E-C-T Her

By Jide Taiwo

In 1967, the United States was a hotbed of racial tension. Over the course of a few months, there were one hundred and fifty-nine riots across the country. The Long, Hot Summer of 1967 saw millions of African-American people who took to the streets to protest racial discrimination and segregation that had been in place for years. From city to city, race riots broke out, leaving deaths and destruction in its wake. A song soon became the civil rights anthem: R-E-S-P-E-C-T me/ Find out what it means to me!

It was fitting that Aretha Franklin‘s version of a song soul singer Otis Redding had released a couple of years earlier became the battle cry for a generation of black, oppressed black Americans. Her connection to the movement might have stemmed from personal struggles she may have had to overcome on her journey to musical success and self-discovery.

Born in the deeply divided Memphis, Tennesee in 1942, her parents sought an escape from the hopelessness of the south at the time. At the age of 2, her family relocated to New York which was a melting pot of races that provide respite from their roots. Soon after, the family moved again, this time to Detroit, Michigan- the site of prosperous America where the great automobile revolution was attracting black families from down south.

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Aretha Franklin with her father and sister.

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Her father, CL Frankin, was a Baptist minister. Nicknamed ‘The Man With The Million Dollar Voice’, his gift of song and speech was passed down to his fourth child Aretha. The family was temporarily spilt as the couple separated in 1948. However, tragedy struck the Franklins soon after when their mother Barbara died suddenly at the age of 34. Young Aretha was only ten at the time. It was after her mother’s passing that she started singing in her father’s church, New Bethel Baptist Church. The church played host to several celebrities such as Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson; as well as civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr.

However, the constant flow of secular singers and personalities to church did not sit well with the outside world. Pastor Franklin was accused on several occasions of hosting orgies in his church. Ray Charles once called it a ‘sex circus.’

At the age of 12, the preacher’s daughter got pregnant. For a while, it was rumoured that her father was responsible. It didn’t help much that the son was named Clarence– after her father. It was discovered later that her school friend Donald Burk was in fact, her baby’s father. Two years later at the age of 14, she had another son- this time by a local boy Edward Jordan. An unofficial biography written by David Ritz describes Aretha Franklin as promiscuous in her teens, mature beyond her years and ‘was free with sex’.

But from the moment she held a microphone in her hands, there was no looking back. Her father nurtured her talent from that early age and became her manager, taking her along with him on his gospel tours where she sang in various churches across the country. Soon he helped her get a record deal and she released her first album, Songs of Faith. By 16 she was touring with Martin Luther King Jr and sang at his funeral in 1968.

Eventually, as most soul singers often do, she ventured out of the church and took on secular music. Her first secular album, Aretha: With The Ray Bryant Combo, was released under Columbia Records. Although she enjoyed some level of success, landing on charts home and abroad; it wasn’t until she moved to Atlantic Records did she truly become a global star. Her version of Otis Redding’s RESPECT announced her arrival as the world’s biggest female act. Adding a little tweak to the lyrics and tempo, she made the song truly hers. The words boldly demanded to be respected, a theme that woman all over the world connected with. At shows and concerts, it wasn’t strange at all to see thousands sing in unison:

I ain’t gonna do you wrong while you’re gone/ Ain’t gon’ do you wrong ’cause I don’t wanna
All I’m askin’ is for a little respect when you come home/
I’m about to give you all of my money
And all I’m askin’ in return, honey
Is to give me my propers when you get home/
R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me
R-E-S-P-E-C-T, take care, TCB…

Was that a barb at her first husband Ted White whom she had married at the 19 and had one son with? There were several talks of incidents of domestic abuse and the New York Times wrote that White ‘left Ms Franklin with visible bruises.’ The marriage was finally annulled in 1969. A year later, she welcomed her fourth son by her road manager Ken Cunningham. She would later marry for a second time- to film star Glynn Turman. The marriage lasted six years before they went their separate ways.

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Aretha Franklin with her second husband, Glynn Turman.

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With songs like Natural Woman, Baby I Love You, Chain of Fools, and countless other, it wasn’t surprising that Aretha Franklin won a total of 18 Grammy Awards. As a matter of fact, she won the Best R&B Female Performance category and it was soon nicknamed the ‘Aretha Franklin Award’.

She got all of her accolades while she was still alive: she was the first woman to be to be inducted into the Rock and Roll of Fame; awarded the Grammy Legend Award and received the Presidential Medal of Honour in 2015.

But perhaps, her greatest legacy is inspiring several generations of musicians that came afterwards. Beyonce ascribed her artistry to her. ‘The soulfulness comes from the gospel. It comes from Aretha, who listened to all of that, who sang in the church,’ she once said. ‘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,‘ wrote Mariah Carey. Kelly Clarkson put it succinctly: ‘Aretha Franklin is the reason why I sing from that part deep inside of me that few could ever reach.’

In a Vogue interview, she explained that her RESPECT song was not intended to be a political anthem when she sang it. ‘Not just me or the civil rights movement or women – it’s important to people. And I was asked what recording of mine I’d put in a time capsule, and it was Respect. Because people want respect – even small children, even babies. As people, we deserve respect from one another.’

That statement is especially poignant for her fellow Americans, whose current political climate reeks of disrespect and mutual distrust. Needless to say, Aretha Franklin’s voice would still be heard loudly, years after her death.

Aretha Franklin died on August 16, 2018, and is survived by four sons: Clarence, Edward, Ted and Kelcalf as well as several grandchildren.

The post Obituary: Aretha Franklin Survived A Turbulent Childhood And Made The World R-E-S-P-E-C-T Her appeared first on Nigerian Entertainment Today.

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