Dubbed "the Queen of Soul" and "Lady Soul", Aretha Franklin is an emblematic voice of the Black American musical community. She has sold over 75 million discs and remains the best-selling female vinyl artist of all time.
Aretha's father was a pastor, so it was only natural for Aretha and her two sisters to sing in the parish choir. After growing up to the sound of gospel, at the tender age of 14 Aretha cut her first record, The Gospel Soul of Aretha Franklin, accompanying herself on the piano. In the early 1960s, she moved to New York and recorded under the Columbia label, but with only mediocre success. She started to get noticed in 1967 when she started working with a couple of producers – Arif Mardin and Jerry Wexler – who gave her the opportunity to record her first big hits under the Atlantic label: I Never Loved a Man, Respect, Chain of Fools, I Say a Little Prayer and Think. A steady succession of recordings followed over the next five years.
The early 1970s kept the pace up and it was during this period that she recorded what many consider one of her most accomplished albums, Aretha Live at Fillmore West. The albums that came out in the 1980s were more standardised, but she remained as popular as ever: Aretha Franklin became the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, joining all the greatest names in American rock. After several joint productions with artists such as George Michael, Elton John and Whitney Houston, she brought out A Rose is Still a Rose in 1998, an album more focused on rap and hip-hop. In subsequent years, Aretha Franklin's stage appearances became less frequent, though she could still be seen alongside Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, Gloria Estefan and Shania Twain during the charity concert Divas Live 1998, or singing the national anthem at the Super Bowl final in 2006. More recently, she sang at President Barack Obama's investiture.
Six landmark dates in the life of Aretha Franklin:
1956: Signed her first recording contract when she was only 14 years old.
1971: Released the album Aretha Live at Fillmore West.
1987: Became the first woman honoured by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
1994: Received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award
2009: Sung at the investiture ceremony of the new President of the United States, Barack Obama.
2014: Gave a concert at the Montreal Jazz Festival.
Six key recordings by Aretha Franklin:
1956: The Gospel Soul of Aretha Franklin
1967: I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)
1973 : Hey Now Hey (The Other Side of the Sky)
1989 : Through the Storm
1998 : A Rose Is Still a Rose
2010 : A Woman Falling Out of Love
Biography compiled from Radio France Musical Documentation, August 2014.