Thursday, August 16, 2018

Obituary: Aretha Franklin

Celebrated singer Aretha Franklin, 76, who had numerous hits especially in the 1960s with songs such as "Respect," has died after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, according to her publicist.

In recent days, she was receiving hospice care.  Earlier this year she had to cancel engagements because of ill health.

Franklin was rumored to have had pancreatic cancer although she kept her illness private.  She was said of have been diagnosed with the disease way back in 2010.

As people know, this is one of the most lethal--if not THE most lethal--of all cancers.  Few people survive even a year after diagnosis.

Franklin was dubbed "The Queen of Soul," which nobody took issue.  She came from a musical background, with her father being noted gospel singer and civil rights activist  Rev. C.L. Franklin, with whom she was very close.

This from People magazine:

“Fake” was never in Aretha Franklin’s vocabulary. One of five children, Franklin was born in Memphis, but at the age of 6 moved with her family to a large, tree-shaded house not far from Detroit’s East Side, in the same neighborhood as Diana Ross and Smokey Robinson.

Her mother Barbara left at about that time, then died four years later. Aretha’s father, the Rev. C. L. (for Clarence LaVaughn) Franklin, was the fiery preacher of Detroit’s 4,500-member New Bethel Baptist Church — the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was a family friend — and it was Aretha’s father who steered the shy girl through her first gospel recording when she was 14 and later oversaw her transition into a soul singer.

“She and my dad were very, very, very close,” Aretha’s sister, Erma, told PEOPLE in 1985. “She depended on him and his advice, and when she was living in California, she’d call him three or four times a day.”

I believe she was the last surviving sibling of her family. Aretha had four sons, starting motherhood at the tender age of 14 (some sources say 13).

Aretha Franklin was a giant in the music field. She will not be forgotten. While I liked her music and thought she was talented, she tended to be a bit overrated by the music press, especially the likes of Rolling Stone.

There were better singers out there. Mahalia Jackson was one. Bessie Smith was another. Paul Robeson was another. Ditto Jackie Wilson. However, she held her own.

When Whitey Houston died in 2012, I wrote a long blog post expounding on what I considered great singing.  It isn't all about technical ability but all about the communication.

Vintage Aretha:

New York Times:

Aretha Louise Franklin was born in Memphis on March 25, 1942. Her mother, Barbara Siggers Franklin, was a gospel singer and pianist.The Franklin household was filled with music. Mr. Franklin welcomed visiting gospel and secular musicians: the jazz pianist Art Tatum, the singer Dinah Washington, and gospel figures like the young Sam Cooke (before his turn to pop), Clara Ward, Mahalia Jackson and James Cleveland, who became Ms. Franklin’s mentors.

Future Motown artists like Smokey Robinson and Diana Ross lived nearby. Aretha’s sisters, Erma and Carolyn, also sang and wrote songs, among them “Piece of My Heart,” a song Erma Franklin recorded before Janis Joplin did, and Carolyn Franklin’s “Ain’t No Way,” a hit for Aretha. The sisters also provided backup vocals for Ms. Franklin on songs like “Respect.” From 1968 until his death in 1989, her brother Cecil was her manager.nts separated when Aretha was 6, leaving her in her father’s care. Her mother died four years later after a heart attack.

C. L. Franklin’s career as a pastor led the family from Memphis to Buffalo and then to Detroit, where he joined the New Bethel Baptist Church in 1946. With his dynamic sermons broadcast nationwide and recorded, he became known as “the man with the golden voice.”

If even a fraction of the stories about her are true, it was one hell of a colorful life.  It is amazing she survived as long as she did.