Aretha Franklin was a singer, songwriter, pianist, actress, and civil rights activist. Her multi-octave vocal range moved millions of people around the world during an expansive career that spanned six decades. As a child, Franklin learned how to play piano by ear, and by the age of 12 her father, a prominent preacher, began managing her career. She accompanied him on the road as he traveled in his, “gospel caravan” tours where she performed at various churches. At the age of 16, Franklin went on tour with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and years later performed at his funeral. Once she turned 18, Franklin made the decision to transition from gospel to pop music and moved to New York. In 1960, she signed with Columbia records and released her first secular album, Aretha: With The Ray Bryant Combo. The album was a mix of diverse genres such as standards, vocal jazz, blues, doo-wop, and rhythm-and-blues. By the end of 1961, Franklin had her first international hit, “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody,” and she was named the “new-star female vocalist” by DownBeat magazine.
Her career continued to skyrocket, as Aretha Franklin became a household name. By the end of the 1960s, Franklin had come to be known as the “Queen of Soul.” Many of Franklin’s songs, such as “Respect,” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” became anthems of movements for social change. Throughout her life, Franklin was immersed and involved in the struggle for civil rights and women’s rights. She provided money for civil rights groups, at times covering payroll, and performed at many benefits and protests. Aretha Franklin was the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She was awarded a Grammy Legend Award in 1991 and later awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994. Franklin was a Kennedy Center Honoree, recipient of the National Medal of Arts, American Academy of Achievement’s Golden Plate Award, presented by Awards Council member and NWHF 2011 Inductee Coretta Scott King. Aretha Franklin’s music has been an inspiration for many artists, and her legacy is enduring.