What made Aretha Franklin unique? Fun Facts about Her

Aretha Franklin stands as one of the most iconic and influential musicians in history, boasting a remarkable record of over 75 million worldwide sales and a voice that remains instantly recognizable to this day.

Often hailed as the Queen of Soul, Franklin’s impact on the music industry goes beyond mere commercial success – she played a pivotal role in shaping and elevating the genre to unprecedented heights. However, her significance extends far beyond her musical prowess, as she was also an extraordinary individual.

In this article, we delve into the life of Aretha Franklin, shedding light on lesser-known aspects of her journey while highlighting her remarkable contributions.

Early Life and Background

Date and Period Event/Milestone
Birth March 25, 1942: Aretha Louise Franklin was born in Memphis, Tennessee
1950s Early Life: Began singing gospel at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit. Her father, C.L. Franklin, was a renowned minister
Debut Album 1960: Released “Aretha: With The Ray Bryant Combo”
1961-1969 Married to Ted White
1978-1984 Married to Glynn Turman
1967 Released “Respect”, which became an iconic song and a No. 1 hit
1980 Film Appearance: Played a role in “The Blues Brothers”
1987 First Female Inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
1990s Received numerous awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and several honorary degrees
2000s Continued her acclaimed music career and performed at events like President Barack Obama’s inauguration
Education Mostly self-educated musically, though she did attend Northern High School in Detroit. She received multiple honorary degrees from institutions like Yale and Harvard
Net Worth Estimated to be $80 million, though this number can vary based on different sources
Death August 16, 2018: Aretha Franklin passed away in Detroit, Michigan from pancreatic cancer

Aretha Franklin’s journey began on March 25, 1942, as she entered the world with parents Barbara and Clarence LaVaughn “C. L.” Franklin. Born at 406 Lucy Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee, her roots were deeply embedded in music and spirituality.

Her father, a preacher and Baptist minister, hailed from Shelby, Mississippi, while her mother was not only a vocalist but also a skilled piano player.

With a blended family that included their four children as well as children from previous relationships, the Franklin household was rich with diverse influences.

She Earned Her Title As The Queen Of Soul

Aretha Franklin, often referred to as the Queen of Soul, left an indelible mark on the music industry with her extraordinary vocal talents and powerful performances.

From her early days in the church choir to her groundbreaking achievements in the world of music, Franklin’s journey is one of inspiration and influence.

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A Magical Voice Beyond Comparison

Even from an early age, listening to Franklin sing was an absolute treat. She was described as a “powerful mezzo-soprano” and had a singing range well beyond what any normal artist could pull off. Despite not being able to read music, her ability to arrange songs was unparalleled, as was her musical intelligence.

She was the epitome of soul music, drawing on gospel roots and blending it with R&B music to create something magical. She was a giant of the industry, inspiring and paving the way for every artist who would come after her. Barack Obama summed up her musical abilities well when he wrote about her in 2015:

“Nobody embodies more fully the connection between the African-American spiritual, the blues, R. & B., rock and roll—the way that hardship and sorrow were transformed into something full of beauty and vitality and hope. American history wells up when Aretha sings.”

Aretha Franklin’s Father Was Her Manager As A Child

Franklin got an early start in her music career, moving out of the church stage to public concerts by the age of 12. Her father was her manager from that point on—at least for a time—helping her secure her first recording contract with J.V.B. Records.

After finishing nine song recordings, she and her father would use a chunk of the money to buy recording equipment for the New Bethel Baptist Church.

Her father was also an important figure in his own right and a famous name in gospel circles. His influence on both his church and the Civil Rights Movement meant that big names passed through Franklin’s childhood home often.

Musicians like Clara Ward and James Cleveland were often around, with Ward becoming something of a mentor to the young Franklin. Other people were also friends with her father, including the likes of Martin Luther King Jr. while he was a member of the Caravans.

She Was A Self-Taught Musician

Franklin was a self-taught musician, learning to play the piano by ear and remaining unable to read music throughout her career. This comes as a shock to a lot of people, especially considering how accomplished she became as a musician.

As she got older, she wanted to be trained professionally to play piano, specifically wanting to attend and learn at Juilliard.

She admitted to regretting not learning to read music in a 2003 interview with Vanity Fair that also included her admission to wanting to go to school.

Unfortunately, her busy schedule kept her from ever enrolling in music school, however, she did take private lessons with a musician trained there, so she got to live out part of her dreams.

Aretha Franklin Had Her First Son At The Age Of 12

Many don’t know it, but Franklin became pregnant and had her first son at the age of 12. She named him after her father, Clarence.

At 15, she gave birth to her second son Edward. Her grandmother and sister helped her take care of both sons while she was getting her singing career off the ground, and she would eventually have two more sons, Ted White Jr. in 1964 and Kecalf Cunningham in 1970.

She Began Her Pop Recording Career At The Age Of 18

At 18, Franklin decided to move to New York and work with Sam Cooke. Her father, still her manager, agreed with the decision and helped her record two demo songs to take with her. She and her tracks would be presented to Columbia Records, who signed her in 1960.

She was terrified of flying

In the early 1980s, Franklin had to endure some intense turbulence while flying in a small two-engine plane from Atlanta back home to Detroit. As she described it in 2007, “That plane was dipsy-doodling all over the place.”

The experience resulted in a fear of flying. From that point onward, Franklin traveled by bus, not by plane, to get to concerts and other events.

She was mistakenly identified as Whitney Houston’s godmother

In 2012, swollen feet left Franklin unable to attend Whitney Houston’s funeral. At the service, Dionne Warwick, Houston’s cousin, mentioned Franklin before realizing she wasn’t present. Warwick then said of Franklin, “She loves Whitney as if she were born to her.

She is her godmother.” However, Franklin was not Houston’s godmother (another popular singer, Darlene Love, filled that role).

Houston’s mother corrected Warwick within days, but that wasn’t enough for Franklin. Five years later, Franklin sent a fax to the Associated Press that accused Warwick of making a “libelous” statement.

In a follow-up interview with the Associated Press, Franklin said, “She blatantly lied to me… fully well knowing what she was doing.”

In later years, she wanted to study at Juilliard

Franklin was a self-taught musician who learned to play the piano by ear and couldn’t read music. Considering her accomplishments and adulation as a performer, being an autodidact didn’t hold her back — but as she grew older, she developed the goal of someday studying piano at Juilliard.

In 2003, when asked what her biggest regret was, Franklin confided to Vanity Fair, “Not learning to read music. However, Juilliard is still on my mind! I’ve come within two blocks of the building, and my schedule would not allow for me to enroll at the time.” And in 2007 she told The New York Times, “I have been trying to get over to Juilliard for the last four years.”

Her voice was declared a natural resource

In 1985, the Department of Natural Resources of the state of Michigan officially declared Franklin’s voice a “natural resource of the state.”

In 1998, Franklin agreed to be part of a group concert for VH1 known as Divas Live. Prior to rehearsals at the Beacon Theatre in New York City, she laid down one simple edict to the show’s producer: “I’ll come to The Beacon, I’ll do it. But I need that air conditioning off.”

Yet when Franklin arrived to rehearse, the air conditioning was running. So she did what any self-respecting diva would do — she left.

The remaining divas — Shania Twain, Gloria Estefan, Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, and Carole King — rehearsed without Franklin. No one knew if she would show up for the concert.

Aretha Franklin Was An Activist

aretha franklin young

Franklin’s father was a prominent African-American preacher who was heavily involved in the Civil Rights Movement. So, it should come as no surprise that she would be just as involved as her father.

She would take on all manner of issues, from the struggles of civil rights to women’s rights. She would often support groups and movements she agreed with by giving them money and covering the payroll of those groups with her donations.

One of the most famous stories about her activism revolves around Angela Davis. Davis was involved in an attempt to free an incarcerated Black Panther member in 1970, leading to a deadly shootout and seeing her arrested.

She was officially charged with conspiracy, kidnapping, and murder thanks to the guns from the shootout being registered to her.

Davis was a well-known but divisive person, though this didn’t seem to bother Franklin. Despite her being labeled a domestic terrorist by Richard Nixon, Franklin decided to bail her out of jail. In an interview with Jet magazine, she had this to say about the situation:

“Angela Davis must go free. Jail is hell to be in. I’m going to see her free if there is any justice in our courts, not because I believe in communism, but because she’s a Black woman and she wants freedom for Black people. I have the money; I got it from Black people — they’ve made me financially able to have it — and I want to use it in ways that will help our people.”

And while Davis was denied bail, making Franklin’s attempt unsuccessful, she would be acquitted on all charges and would publicly thank the singer on numerous occasions.

Franklin was also a strong supporter of Native American rights. While most people don’t know it, she often quietly donated money to indigenous groups around the world struggling for their own rights, especially when it came to movements supporting Native American and First Nation cultural rights.


Aretha Franklin’s indelible mark on the music industry and her unyielding commitment to using her platform for positive change have solidified her status as an icon.

Her journey from a talented young girl raised in a musical household to a global sensation is a testament to her dedication, resilience, and exceptional talents.

As we remember and celebrate her contributions, we’re reminded that Aretha Franklin was not only a Queen of Soul but also a Queen of Hearts.

In conclusion, Aretha Franklin’s legacy is a tapestry woven with remarkable achievements, unparalleled talent, and an unyielding commitment to social causes.

Her influence on music and society transcends generations, and her journey serves as a testament to the power of artistry and activism.

Aretha Franklin will forever be remembered as the Queen of Soul, a title earned through her extraordinary voice and her unwavering dedication to making the world a better place.

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