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Remembering the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, three years on: 'She was the gold standard'

Franklin passed away on August 16 in 2018, but she is still dearly missed by her fans and those in the music industry.

Remembering the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, three years on: 'She was the gold standard'
Image Source: Aretha Franklin. American soul singer Aretha Franklin, a star on the Atlantic record label. (Photo by Express Newspapers/Getty Images)

It has been three years since Aretha Franklin passed away. Referred to with equal parts respect and love as the Queen of Soul, she died following a difficult battle with pancreatic cancer in 2018. For several decades prior to her death, Franklin defined the genres of soul, gospel, disco, and opera. In addition to this, she was a fierce icon in the civil rights movement, embodying the challenges, strength, and accomplishments of Black women in the United States. As the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, she represented to many the significant power of the Black woman, Rolling Stone reports.


Franklin was born to preacher and civil rights activist Clarence L. Franklin and Barbara Siggers, and grew up singing gospel at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan. As a young singer, she was mentored and trained by Mahalia Jackson, known as the "Queen of Gospel." Jackson was also a noted civil rights activist. At an early age, these influences played an important role in Franklin's life and her journey forward. She began her career as a "secular music" recording artist at 18 years old when she signed on with Columbia Records. At first, she did not flourish in the music industry. However, her time came in 1966; she found acclaim and commercial success after signing with Atlantic Records that year.


The Queen of Soul released 'Respect,' arguably her most popular song, in the year 1967. Then came hits such as 'I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),' '(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,' 'Chain of Fools,' 'Think,' and 'I Say a Little Prayer.' She went on to record albums that have now gained star status, including 'I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You' (1967), 'Lady Soul' (1968), 'Spirit in the Dark' (1970), 'Young, Gifted and Black' (1972), 'Amazing Grace' (1972), and 'Sparkle' (1976).


It comes as no surprise that the talented firebrand is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, having sold more than 75 million records worldwide. Throughout her career, she won 18 Grammy Awards, including the first eight awards given for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance (between the years 1968 and 1975) and a Grammy Awards Living Legend honor and Lifetime Achievement Award. Upon her passing, music critic Ann Powers said of Franklin in an interview with NPR, "Aretha Franklin is and was the gold standard for everyone. I think there are few vocalists who hold that status for their whole lives. She worked with the greatest producers. She collaborated with people like Curtis Mayfield. You know, she set the standard for someone like Stevie Wonder. She is at the lead for everyone—for younger musicians, all the way to her later recordings working with rap legends like Andre 3000 of Outkast, Lauryn Hill, Mary J. Blige. They all turned to Aretha as their mother, as their president. You know? That's what she was."


Of course, no discussion of Franklin's journey is complete without mention of her contributions to the civil rights movement. In 1968, for instance, she sang 'Take My Hand, Precious Lord' at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s funeral. She also performed the National Anthem at the Democratic National Convention that same year. According to Reverend Jesse Jackson, the legend often used her musical talents to help further the civil rights movement. Franklin went so far as to tour with King and fellow singer-activist, Harry Belafonte. "She did 11 concerts for free and hosted us at her home and did a fundraiser for my campaign," the Reverend shared. "Aretha has always been a very socially conscious artist, an inspiration, not just an entertainer. She has shared her points of view from the stage for challenged people, to register to vote, to stand up for decency."


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