The word diva conjures images of boa clad performers, larger than life personalities, and, thanks to Beyonce, the female version of a hustler. All of these things and more describe Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award winner Aretha Franklin, so much so that she was cast as the ultimate demanding diva along with Liza Minnelli in a recent Snickers commercial. With a musical career spanning over 40 years, over 18 Grammys on her mantle, and being the first female inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, Aretha Louise Franklin has earned the title of diva.
In 1956 at the age of 14, Aretha Franklin recorded her first album Songs of Faith under the director of gospel legend James Cleveland. The self-taught piano prodigy was forced to put her gospel career on hold, due to early motherhood, and returned to singing after signing a contract with Columbia Records in the spring of 1960. However, it wasn’t until signing with Atlantic Records in 1966 and gaining more creative control of her sound that Aretha Franklin was able to achieve true commercial success with the release of her 1967 single I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You). This song, as well as the B-Side Do Right Woman, Do Right Man, introduced listeners to a more gospel infused sound that would eventually go on to define Franklin for the rest of her career. With her next single, the original anthem for single ladies, Respect, the Queen of Soul was born.
• She was the second African-American woman to appear on the cover of Time magazine.
• She holds honorary Doctorates of Music from the University of Detroit, Berklee College of Music, the University of Pennsylvania, and Yale University.
• Gospel legend, Mahalia Jackson was a close friend of her family who regularly visited Franklin’s childhood home.
• The hat that she wore during President Obama’s inauguration is on display at the Smithsonian.
• She sang the theme song for A Different World.
While fashion, and her weight, may have fluctuated over the long years spanning her career, it goes without saying that Aretha Franklin’s flamboyant fashion sense is just as iconic as her voice. The intricately beaded ball gowns, feather boas, and fur coats that she wears to public appearances have become the defining elements of her style. In addition to her usual diva accoutrements, Franklin is also known for adhering to the adage “the bigger the hair the closer to God” and was even quoted saying…
“I’m a big woman. I need big hair.”
When big hair is not an option, in the African-American tradition of donning a hat to church, Ms Franklin pulls out the kind of chapeau you don’t want to get stuck sitting behind, as evidenced by her performance at President Obama’s inauguration.
Like most artists of her status, choosing one favorite Aretha song is nearly impossible as is choosing only a few images and videos to represent her style and career. That said, I have done my best to scour the internet and find two original performances and one video that happened to be both me and my mother’s jam back in ’98. What are some of your favorite Aretha songs and moments?
Layout by Katrina
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