The “Queen of Soul,” Aretha Franklin passed away Thursday morning at the age of 76 in her Detroit home, leaving behind an almost six-decade long career and legacy. The reported cause of death was pancreatic cancer. CNN reported that both Stevie Wonder and Jesse Jackson visited Franklin while she was in hospice care.
Franklin began her career in 1960 at the age of 18, and although she didn’t have much success starting out, she earned her title as the “Queen of Soul,” by the end of the 1960s when she switched over from Columbia Records to Atlantic Records.
In honor of the “Queen of Soul,” let’s take a look at some of her greatest hits during her career, and just how incredible her contributions to the world of music were.
Although an original song from the late Otis Redding, Aretha did her own version of “Respect,” which took on an entirely different meaning from a female perspective. While originally applying to the discrimination of African-Americans across America during the end of the civil rights movement, Franklin’s version of the song became an anthem for feminism as well. Being not only African-American, but an African-American woman, this was just one of many songs that Franklin broke barriers with in the music industry.
“You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman” (1968)
Although released in 1968, Franklin performed this song in 2015 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. She was awarded the Kennedy Center Honors, which is an honor given to people in the performance and arts industry for their contributions and positive impacts they left on American culture. This song showcased her powerful vocals, and unique gospel sound, that had the capability to bring people in the crowd to tears.
“(To be) Young, Gifted and Black” (1972)
Also the title of Franklin’s twentieth studio album, Franklin took on the title of an original song by Nina Simone, to continue to bring more attention to the black community. This song reinforces the black pride Franklin was trying to get across to those in a time of incredible racial tension. “When you feelin' real low/Here's a great truth you should remember and know/That you're young, gifted and black,” lets people of the African-American community know that they should be proud of who they are, despite what the critics of society may think.
This song was another one of Franklin’s greatest hits revered as a feminist anthem. In this soulful number, Franklin sings about a relationship where she stands her ground as someone who cannot be fooled easily. She repeats the phrase, “You better think,” which emphasizes that Franklin wants her partner in the relationship to consider what he decides to do, because the “Queen of Soul” was not born yesterday.
These were just several pieces of Aretha Franklin’s legacy. She was, and still is, a legend in her own right, because she was one of the few female African-American artists to be successful and to become an icon in a time in America when successful people of color were a rarity, due to the prejudice they faced. She pushed boundaries not only for the awareness of African-American culture, but for the black artists who follow after her.
Macey Rose is a freelance reporter with the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @maceyrae9.