Aretha Franklin: "The Quiet Hero" By Lee Leigh
The voice, that powerful voice! All those around Aretha Franklin knew she had a voice like no other. Behind the powerful voice was a gentle soul and kindness of heart. She did not seek notoriety, and she gave of herself to others. In a street interview, a man on the street referring to Detroit’s hard times said, “Aretha Franklin never left us. She belong to us.” She indeed was a quiet hero to the people of Detroit and to the world.
Aretha could take an old song and lay her own rendition to it in such a way that reached into the soul. Otis Redding was heard saying in jest, “Aretha Franklin took my song, ‘Respect,’ and I ain’t never getting it back.” Otis Redding knew that Aretha gave the song something no one else could. Aretha’s rendition was so powerful, it became a “battle cry” and women’s anthem. Her voice has been described as mezzo soprano, and she has been often praised for her vocal flexibility, interpretation, and arrangements. By the end of the 1960s, she was being called the queen of soul, went on to sing for Presidents, and recorded 112 charted singles on Billboard, becoming the most charted female artist in the chart’s history. She won 18 Grammy Awards and was one of the bestselling musical artists of all times.
Franklin overcame a difficult childhood. Her parents had a troubled marriage due to her father’s philandering, and her mother moved to Buffalo taking only her son from a previous marriage with her. Although, her mother kept in touch with Aretha and the other siblings, her mother died of a heart attack in 1952 before Aretha’s 10th birthday. During this troubled time, Aretha’s grandmother Rachel, and notable gospel icon Mahalia Jackson took turns helping with the Franklin children. Aretha learned to play the piano by ear during this time.
The mother of 4 sons, Aretha first became pregnant at age 12 and gave birth to her first child which she named Clarence after her father in 1955. In 1957 at the age of 14, she had a second child named Edward. She never liked to discuss her early pregnancies in interviews. Both children took the family name Franklin. Her third child was Ted White Jr., born in 1964 and is known professionally as Teddy Richards. He has provided guitar backing for his mother’s band for live concerts. Her youngest son, Kecalf Cunningham was born in 1970 and is the child of her road manager Ken Cunningham.
Clarence, Aretha Franklin, and younger son, Kecalf,
Aretha Franklin and son Edward Franklin
Aretha Franklin and son Kecalf
Teddy Richards, Aretha Franklin’s son
Aretha was married twice. Her first husband was Theodore “Ted” White whom she married in 1961 at age 19. After a contentious marriage that involved domestic violence, they separated in 1968 and divorced in 1969. She married her second husband actor Glenn Turman in 1978 at her father’s church. By marrying Turman, Franklin became step-mother to his 3 children from a previous marriage. They separated in 1982 and divorced in 1984. Franklin had plans to marry her longtime companion Wilkerson dating back to 1988. The engagement was called off in 2012.
Aretha overcame adversities in her life and went on to become one of the most celebrated women of all times. She was a great artist, entertainer, and vocalist who was much loved.