After a lengthy illness, Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul—and who Rolling Stone (among others) once called the greatest singer of all time—has passed away at age 76. Let’s all pay our R-E-S-P-E-C-Ts.
Queen of Prodigies
Music was a part of Franklin’s life from even before the beginning. She was born in the major American music city of Memphis, to a mother who was a professional pianist and singer and to a father who was a traveling minister. It was in church services run by her dad where Franklin first got to sing in public. Franklin’s mother died when the future superstar was nine-years-old…and so Franklin taught herself how to play the piano.
Queen of Opera
Franklin could sing soul of course, but she was incredibly versatile, able to handle a pop song (such as her ‘80s comeback hits “Freeway of Love” and “I Knew You Were Waiting For Me”), but she could even handle opera, a notoriously difficult and specialized discipline…and on a moment’s notice to boot. Perhaps the greatest operatic tenor in history, Luciano Pavarotti, was scheduled to perform his signature aria “Nessun Dorma” at the 1998 Grammy Awards. He took ill just before he was supposed to sing and canceled…and so his friend, Aretha Franklin filled in, and nailed it. She’d only had 20 minutes to prepare.
Queen of Blues
Franklin is best known for her timeless ‘60s hits like “Respect,” “Think,” and “Chain of Fools,” but she scored plenty of hit singles on the R&B chart into the ‘70s. She enjoyed a major mainstream comeback in the 1980s, which was triggered by her first of two film acting appearances in 1980’s The Blues Brothers. The studio wanted a younger act to play Mrs. Murphy and her backing musicians, like Rose Royce, who had a disco hit with “Car Wash.” Star and screenwriter Dan Aykroyd insisted on casting the Queen of Soul. (By the way, Franklin’s second film appearance: reprising her role as Mrs. Murphy in 1998’s Blues Brothers 2000.)
Queen of Shade
Franklin was a diva in the sense that she was an amazing singer, and also one who could, as the young people like to say, “throw shade.” She had a knack for delivering carefully-worded strategic putdowns. In 2014, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal asked Franklin to say the first thing that came to mind when different contemporary singers were named. While she said Whitney Houston “was a talent” and “had a gift,” Franklin said that Taylor Swift had “great gowns. Beautiful gowns.” As for rapper/singer Nicki Minaj, Franklin said, “Hmm, I’m gonna pass on that one.”