All Time Great Vocalists – Aretha Franklin.
By recommendation of Sam in the Bespoke office, this next diva has truly earned her spot as one of the most astonishing vocalists of all time. Aretha Franklin is all soul and rhythm, when she sings, you feel every aspect of emotion and pretence a song has to give. Her voice is unique, not only do you hear it, but you feel it. We at Bespoke believe truly great vocalists do more than just sing in pitch, keeping tune. A real legend moves you with their voice, they take you on a journey, that’s why Aretha Franklin is a legend. Here is her story:
Aretha Franklin’s musical gifts became apparent at an early age. Largely self-taught, she was regarded as a child prodigy. A gifted pianist with a powerful voice, Franklin got her start singing in front of her father’s congregation. By the age of 14, she had recorded some of her earliest tracks at his church, which were released by a small label as the album Songs of Faith in 1956. She also performed with C. L.’s traveling revival show and, while on tour, befriended gospel greats such as Mahalia Jackson, Sam Cooke and Clara Ward.
But life on the road also exposed Franklin to adult behaviors, and at the age of 14, she became a mother for the first time. A second child followed two years later. After a brief hiatus, Franklin returned to performing and followed heroes such as Cooke and Dinah Washington into pop and blues territory. In 1960, with her father’s blessing, Franklin traveled to New York, where after being courted by several labels, including Motown and RCA, she signed with Columbia Records, who released the album Aretha in 1961.
Though two tracks from Aretha would make the R&B Top 10, a bigger success came that same year with the single “Rock-a-bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody,” which crossed over to No. 37 on the pop charts. But while Franklin enjoyed moderate results with her recordings over the next few years, they failed to fully showcase her immense talent. In 1966, she and her new husband and manager, Ted White, decided a move was in order, and Franklin signed to Atlantic. Producer Jerry Wexler immediately shuttled Franklin to the studios at the Florence Alabama Musical Emporium.
Hitting her stride in 1967 and 1968, Franklin churned out a string of hit singles that would become enduring classics, showcasing Franklin’s powerful voice and gospel roots in a pop framework. In 1967, the album I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You) was released, and the first song on the album, “Respect”—an empowered cover of an Otis Redding track—reached No. 1 on both the R&B and pop charts and won Aretha her first two Grammy Awards. She also had Top 10 hits with “Baby I Love You,” “Think,” “Chain of Fools,” “I Say a Little Prayer,” “(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.”
Franklin’s chart dominance soon earned her the title “Queen of Soul,” while at the same time she also became a symbol of black empowerment during the civil rights movement of the time. In 1968, Franklin was enlisted to perform at the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during which she paid tribute to her father’s fallen friend with a heartfelt rendition of “Precious Lord.” Later that year, she was also selected to sing the national anthem to begin the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
With 18 Grammys under her belt, Franklin is one of the most honored artists in Grammy history, ranked among the likes of Alison Krauss, Adele and Beyoncé Knowles. In 2011, Franklin released her first album on her own label, A Woman Falling Out of Love. To support the project, she performed several concerts, including a two-night stint at the famed Radio City Music Hall in New York. With fans and critics alike impressed with her performances, she successfully proved that the Queen of Soul still reigns supreme.
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