112 charted singles.
77 Hot 100 entries.
17 top ten pop singles.
100 R&B entries.
20 number-one R&B singles.
As we reflect on the life of Aretha Franklin, it seems an understatement to recognise her only as The Queen of Soul within the musical world.
Born in Memphis and transplanted to Detroit when her father took over as pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church, Franklin began singing gospel after the passing of her mother with the hymn “Jesus, Be a Fence Around Me.” She was only ten years old at this point in her life but her father, famous in his own right and known to associate with the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Sam Cooke, wasted no time in supporting his daughter’s talents. In fact, by the time she reached 14, he was officially acting as her manager and arranging performances across the United States.
With organized tours involving churches, he encouraged his daughter’s relationship with music by connecting her with like-minded people and experience. By the age of sixteen, he had witnessed Aretha sign with J.V.B Records, tour with The Soul Stirrers, and pay tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. as she sang at his funeral.
Aspiring to follow in the footsteps of Sam Cooke, Aretha confided to her father that she wished to both explore and enter into recording pop music. She signed with Columbia Records at the age of 18 and by 1961 she had released her first single to chart the Billboard Top 100 – “Won’t Be Long.”
Franklin’s success was expansive from this point on. In her next journey in life, she signed with Atlantic Records, a move proving to be a monumental step for both herself and the world. This transition progressed her talents further, placing her within on top 100 and 40 lists. More importantly, it aligned Franklin with the opportunity to transform Otis Redding’s song, “Respect.”
Past the easily recognizable tune and catchy rhythm, Aretha Franklin transformed a word and pushed it to demand basic human decency. She took a something for which the nation and world took for granted, blossoming it into a demand for our own inherent and deserved need – human decency. She inserted herself not just in the musical arena but also the hearts, souls, and actions of others.
We owe Aretha Franklin a debt that cannot be repaid.
We owe her the continued legacy of her melodic demand. We owe her the legacy of a continued fight. We owe her for the reminder to always demand RESPECT.
As we look to the future and empower those who cross our paths at Albion Fellows Bacon Center, we owe it to Aretha to remind our community that everyone is entitled to the promise of human decency.
You matter. You deserve respect from both yourself and others.
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