I wasn’t even born when the incomparable singer, songwriter and pianist Aretha Louise Franklin got her first record deal with J.V.B. Records for her gospel album, “Songs of Faith” in 1955, at the tender age of 14, and then signed with Columbia Records for her first secular album, “Aretha: With The Ray Bryant Combo” in 1960 at only 19. But Ms. Aretha Franklin really blew up in 1966 after signing with Atlantic Records; cranking out hit songs such as “Respect,” “Chain of Fools,” “Think,” “Natural Woman,” “I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You” and “I Say A Little Prayer.” Who knew that this musical, child prodigy was gonna grow up to be the most successful, celebrated, soul singer ever! Deservedly earning the crown, “The Queen of Soul.”
When I was a little girl, I became familiar with Aretha Franklin’s early music because my father John, aka “Saleem,” had a band in the 1970’s called “Children of the Sun,” that practiced her songs every night with their lead singer Sandy in our tiny Newark, NJ apartment in preparation to perform them in dirty dives and bars on the “Chitlin Circuit.” The Queen of Soul’s notable 1966 hit song, “Respect,” originally written by the late, great Otis Redding, is my all-time fave, not only because she sings her face off, but also because I learned that that song became the feminist Civil Rights anthem. Although women are still fighting for equality in this misogynistic culture, powerful songs like that continues to give us the courage to tell men to “#PutSomeRespecOnIt!!”
Just when I thought ReRe had reached her pinnacle with that stellar vocal range, she blew us all away at the 1998 #Grammys when on short notice, she stepped in for the famed opera singer Luciano Pavarotti and sang the opera song, “Nesun Dorma” flawlessly!! The standing ovation was at a fever pitch!! As she belted out every brilliant note, my eyes stared affixed to my pregnant television from utter surprise and amazement!! The thing I loved most about Aretha Franklin was that she remained musically relevant over the years with songs like “A Rose is Still a Rose,” written and produced in 1998 by Lauryn Hill, and music featured on soundtracks of blockbuster films: “St. Elmo’s Fire,” “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” “The Blues Brothers,” “The Holiday” and Oscar-winning “Moonlight.”
Auntie Aretha, as we so affectionately called her, has sung for several presidents, including her most memorable, history-making performance when she sang “My Country Tis of Thee” LIVE at President Barack Obama’s January 20, 2009 inauguration. Auntie ReRe even weighed in on #Beyonce lip-syncing the National Anthem at President Barack Obama’s 2013 inauguration swearing-in ceremony, “but when I heard the news this evening that she was pre-recorded, I really laughed. I thought it was funny because the weather down there was about 46 or 44 degrees and for most singers that is just not good singing weather,” Franklin told ABC News in an interview. “I thought it was really funny, but she did a beautiful job with the pre-record … next time I’ll probably do the same.” Oooo, Miss Aretha threw #ShadeNoShade at #Bey.
Although Aretha Franklin died on August 16, 2018 of pancreatic cancer at the age of 76, we must remember that she has enjoyed an over-sixty-year successful career in the music industry. Auntie Aretha has sold over 75 million records, won 18 Grammys, 3 American Music Awards and 3 NAACP Image Awards. She has also received a star on the Hollywood Walk of FAME on August 29, 1979, was the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 and was inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame in 2015. I had no idea that her last performance was on November 7, 2017 at Elton John’s Annual AIDS Foundation Gala. She brought the house down as she played the piano and sang “I Say A Little Prayer for You.” All Hail the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin! She will be missed, but not forgotten!!
Now for the lion’s share of this article, I have chronicled the outstanding accomplishments of the incomparable Aretha Franklin. However, this would not be a Lisa Durden essay if I did not #SpillTheStrongLiptonTea about Auntie ReRe. So, before y’all kick my back in and start calling me negative, I’m touching on her very complicated life only because before she passed, there was already a biopic in the works by producer Harvey Mason, Jr., set to star Jennifer Hudson. We really don’t know a whole lot about Aretha Franklin’s personal life because you know how old-school Southern Black folk rolled: “Do not air your dirty laundry.” Needless to say, she was freakishly private.
When I discovered that Aretha Franklin was underage when she had her first two children, I got a sick feeling in my stomach. We all know that minors can’t consent to sex. I began to wonder had she been a victim of sexual assault?? Was she raped!! Was it statutory rape?? So, I have some questions that I hope the biopic about her life will answer. I’m curious to know who impregnated her at the age of 12 with her eldest son Clarence Franklin?? My first instinct tells me that the father may have been an older teenager or a grown as man; not likely another 12-year-old. She has said that a classmate named Donald Burk is the father, but I have searched high and low and cannot seem to find anything about his age. Aretha named her son after her dad, which to me is very strange. In my opinion, the rumor that her father is the father isn’t a total impossibility. I’d also like to know who impregnated her at the age of 14 with her second son Edward Franklin?? Again, I’m curious to know was the father an older teenager or a grown as man?? A feeling in my gut is making me think that it might not have been a 14-year-old boy. In the second child’s case, there is no record of Aretha making any mention of who his father is. There is also an unauthorized biography written about Aretha Franklin by David Ritz titled “Respect: The Secret Life of Aretha Franklin” that alleges her father, Rev. Clarence LaVaughn “C.L.” Franklin’s church services would turn into orgies. If the biopic corroborates that story of debauchery, I wonder was she exposed to sexual predators in “God’s House??” The rumor certainly begs the question, “As a little girl, did Aretha Louise Franklin get respect??”
Lisa Durden is a TV personality and subject matter expert in the areas of pop culture, politics and social issues. She’s an “A-Plus Panel” Contributor on My9’s “Chasing News.” Ms. Durden is also an award-winning director/producer in film & TV. In 2005, she launched Lisa Durden Unlimited Productions, a multimedia company headquartered in Newark, NJ. She #KeepsTheCameraHot!! #ClapForThat!!