The world lost an icon today. Aretha Franklin, the “Queen of Soul,” died at the age of 76 of advanced pancreatic cancer.
Born in Memphis in 1942, Franklin was raised in Detroit, a city brimming with talent, music and civil rights initiatives, from the age of five.
Like many other singers, she started her musical career in church at a young age, and found success many years later – but she never regretted having to work for it.
Aretha cherished the hard work it took to get to the top, crediting with expanding her capabilities. Her work ethic was just one of the many lessons we can learn from one of the greatest musical talents our world has been blessed with.
1. Hard work makes a Queen of Soul
By the time she turned 10, Aretha was already singing in her father’s church. He had noticed her talent, and as someone with a gifted voice himself, C.L. Franklin encouraged his daughter to sing gospel. Aretha continued to regularly sing at the iconic New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit where her father was minister until the age of 18. But even after she started her secular musical journey, Aretha remained a staunch supporter of the church, performing regularly at Bethel.
While her first contract with Columbia Records brought only moderate success, Aretha moved on to Atlantic Records and discovered her true voice in soul music. Soon she would dominate the charts and be known as the Queen of Soul, a title she firmly holds to this day. Songs like “Spanish Harlem,” “Natural Woman” and, of course, the seminal “Respect” skyrocketed her career.
Even as soul music’s popularity waned, Aretha remained an icon, expanding her range and collaborations. She sang with Elton John, George Michael, The Rolling Stones and even gained international critical acclaim for her performance of the opera aria “Nessun Dorma” at the 1998 Grammy’s. And of course, there was her show-stealing turn in classic The Blues Brothers movie.
A minister’s daughter, Aretha remained a devout Christian throughout her life and credited God with her voice and talent. “Being a singer is a natural gift. It means I’m using to the highest degree possible the gift that God gave me to use,” she once said. But for the Queen of Soul that didn’t exclude recognizing her own hard work and achievements.
She was induced into the GMA Gospel Music Hall of Fame and the first woman to be induced into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Until recently Aretha was also the most charted Billboard female artist and as far as Rolling Stone magazine is considered, Aretha is and will be the No.1 greatest singer ever.
She was aware and comfortable with her status: “I’ve been around long enough for people to know who I am and what my contributions are. They know me as more than just an artist. I think they know me as a woman as well.”
3. Celebrating women
Probably Aretha Franklin’s most famous song, “Respect” has remained to this day one of the most iconic songs of female empowerment, although it is by far not the only Aretha tune to celebrate womanhood and female power.
And while probably everybody has heard the catchy tune at least once or twice, fewer are familiar with its origins. The song was far from a feminist anthem before Aretha.
In fact, “Respect” started out as a song celebrating traditional family values and structures in its original form. Penned by Otis Redding, that version spoke of how a man works all day, supporting his family, so his wife must respect him in the home.
But as Redding would later admit, once Aretha took on the song and reworked it, it became a different creature altogether – the song now placed both man and woman on equal footing.
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