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  • Ben Province

Aretha Franklin: Remembering Music's Queen

The last three years have seen the deaths of some of the biggest icons in music history: David Bowie, Prince, Chuck Berry and Tom Petty (to name a few). That list grew today with the passing of Aretha Franklin, who died of pancreatic cancer. She was 76-years-old.

As deserved as the unofficial title "Queen of Soul" is, it doesn't seem to tell the full story, as her style would draw from gospel, pop, jazz and blues. While Elvis Presley, who died on this day in 1977, is known as the "King of Rock and Roll," the nickname is often abbreviated to simply "the King." Their royalty transcended their respective genres.

Presley and Franklin, early on, honed their talents with the help of the churches they attended. The former learned to play guitar, in-part, from his family's pastor. In 1952, as a child, Franklin began singing solos in her church, New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit. Her father, C.L. Franklin, a singer and Civil Rights activist, ministered there. It would only be nine years until she saw her first success, as her song, "Won't Be Long," reached number seven on the R&B chart, as her father represented her as manager.

Franklin was inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and GMA Gospel Music Hall of Fame. The Memphis native won 18 Grammy awards in both R&B and Gospel categories, while selling 75 million records worldwide. And she released 20 number-one R&B singles (of which she wrote or co-wrote four, including "Think").

Her second, 1967's "Respect," has become so tied to Franklin that it would be easy to not realize the song was a cover, originally recorded by Otis Redding two years before. However, Franklin's version was adapted to fit her point of view, and certain lyrics were changed.

She also put her stamp on two Beatles classics on her 18th studio album, 1970's "This Girl's in Love with You": "Let it Be" and "Eleanor Rigby." (In total, she released 42 LPs.)

Her version of the former was released two months prior to the Beatles' version. "Rigby" was released as a single and made it to number 17 on the Billboard chart. Franklin's track was a dramatic change from the somber Paul McCartney-penned original. Hers was an upbeat number rooted in gospel influences. Franklin even went as far to change the lyric, saying that "I'm Eleanor Rigby," pulling it off seamlessly.

And only the Queen can do that.


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