Daughter of a Baptist minister, Aretha Franklin started singing gospel in her father’s church when she was ten years old, soon after her estranged mother died in Buffalo. Miss Franklin had her first child, Clarence (named after her father), when she was 14. Her second son, Edward, came a year later. Both boys were raised by their great-grandmother who lived behind Reverend Franklin’s house. The Reverend was one of a few preachers in the 1950s (including family friend Martin Luther King, Jr.) to record an album full of sermons. His label, JVB Records, recorded his daughter’s first song, “Never Grow Old,” the same year it recorded John Lee Hooker’s “Blues Man.” With her father’s blessing, at the age of 17, Miss Franklin started to record jazz-influenced pop. Her version of the Otis Redding song, “Respect” (with her two sisters singing backup) hit #1 on the pop and R&B charts, while teaching millions, including the disconsolate comedian Rodney Dangerfield, how to spell.
She’s won 18 Grammys and, until recently, eaten whatever she wished. After a health scare in 2011, she lost 80 lbs. She often performed publicly in support of Reverend King and later sang at his funeral. She performed the aria “Nessun Dorma” live as a last minute stand-in for a sick Luciano Pavarotti at the 1998 Grammys. And she wore her Sunday finest including a big bowed bonnet at the 2008 presidential inauguration, where she sang poignantly “My Country Tis of Thee.” The Smithsonian has since borrowed the hat. Music producer Jerry Wexler once called Franklin “the lady of mysterious sorrows.” She has brought joy to many.