No One Sang Gospel Like Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin gospel

Aretha Franklin passed away Thursday morning at the age of 76. 

Franklin brought Black gospel-rooted rhythm and blues music to its fullest potential. In 2008 she was ranked first in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the “100 greatest singers of all time” by a panel of 179 experts.

While she was called the “Queen of Soul” and came to fame for hits such as “Respect” and “A Natural Woman,” Franklin got her start singing gospel songs in front of her father’s congregation.

Aretha Franklin was born in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1942. A gifted singer and pianist, Franklin toured with her father’s traveling revival show.  

Franklin’s parents were Baptist preacher Reverend Clarence La Vaughan “C.L.” Franklin and Barbara Siggers Franklin, a gospel singer.

Franklin’s parents separated by the time she was six, and four years later her mother succumbed to a heart attack. Guided by C.L.’s preaching assignments, the family relocated to Detroit, Michigan. C.L. eventually landed at New Bethel Baptist Church, where he gained national renown as a preacher and a friend of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Franklin later wrote of a happy childhood in Detroit, where she and her siblings were raised by their father and grandmother “Big Mama.” The children were exposed to gospel music and musicians from an early age; not only Aretha but her sisters Erma and Carolyn would become accomplished singers and musicians.

Aretha Franklin Gospel Music 

By the age of 14, Aretha had recorded some of her earliest tracks at Bethel Baptist Church, which were released by a small label as the album Songs of Faith in 1956. In her first gospel recording she sang the hymn “Precious Lord” for Chess Records. 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.

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 selected to sing the national anthem to begin the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

When Mahalia Jackson passed away in 1971, Franklin’s interest in gospel music was rekindled. In 1972, she released the album Amazing Grace, which sold more than 2 million copies and went on to become one of the best-selling gospel albums at the time.

In 1987 she released the album One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, which won the Grammy for Best Soul Gospel Performance.

Amazing Grace: The Complete Recordings was released in 2003 after almost two decades of performances. It was recorded live at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles. It finishes with her leading a swelling choir on “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”

Not long after being diagnosed with cancer in 2010, Franklin spoke about believing a “miraculous healing” was happening to her.

“I was talking to Smokey Robinson, my oldest, best friend Smokey, talking about the fact that some doctors are not very well acquainted with faith healing. And Smokey said, ‘Well, they just don’t know who your healer is,'” Franklin told The Associated Press at the time.

She also asked for prayer in that interview “until I am 100 percent, not 85, and back on stage.”

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Bob Ditmer
Bob Ditmer has worked in Christian media for more than 20 years including positions with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and Focus on the Family.

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