Aretha Franklin: Influential Black Leaders
Curtsies are absolutely appropriate. Aretha Franklinis undisputed when it comes to pouring gospel-inflected, bluesy wails of love-gone-wrong lyrics over country-fried–yet-pop tracks. She plucked her Pentecostal pipes from the pulpit and applied them to a secular sound, giving us Sunday morning righteousness on any given Saturday night.
Fifty years ago, the daughter of popular Detroit Baptist minister C.L. Franklin scored a No. 1 hit with her remake of Otis Redding’s Respect, a song with a bit of a double entendre that helped soundtrack the civil rights movement. In 1967, when there was racial unrest in her native Detroit, people ran through the streets, daring cops to come near them while they shouted “sock it to me,” her ad-lib from the song, as they protested. Her signature song — and her most noted, as it’s been used many times over in TV and films and is a hot karaoke tune — also served as a sororal call for women, who also were looking for respect and to be taken seriously alongside their male counterparts. All these years later, the single still resonates.
But Franklin is bigger than one track. Her career has spanned five decades, and she also was the first female performer inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 — as she should have been. She’s had more than 100 singles that have reached the Billboard charts, and 17 of them have been top 10 singles. She’s won an impressive 18 Grammys, has sold more than 75 million albums, and she’s one of the most influential voices ever, inspiring and paving the way for acts such as Beyoncé, Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. Franklin is a musician’s musician — she can bang it on the piano as well as she can on a microphone — and she can sing opera music as effortlessly as she can sing gospel. Few can hold a candle to her four-octave range — many have tried, some have come close, but no one has managed to sustain and strike quite the way Franklin has. All hail the Queen. – Kelley L. Carter