One of the greatest American singers of all time was Aretha Franklin. Remembered as The Queen of Soul, she was one of the most successful singers of her generation and her passing was a great loss to American culture.
She had quite a challenging journey to become a huge star and her life’s story is worth a revisit. She passed away on August 16, 2018, and the void that she’s left still hasn’t been filled – and we highly doubt anyone can replace her.
Her music still inspires us today, gets us off our feet, and forces us to start dancing even if we don’t want to! One can only think of Aretha Franklin as a force for good.
And yet, Aretha Franklin has a huge FBI file after 40-year surveillance! But why?
Let’s learn about Aretha Franklin’s life and career and why she was watched by the FBI…
ARETHA FRANKLIN’S EARLY LIFE AND CAREER
Aretha Louise Franklin was born in the blues capital of the world, Memphis, Tennessee on March 25, 1942. Her father, C.L. Franklin was a Baptist minister as well as a traveling preacher. Her mother was a piano player as well as an accomplished singer.
Both these influences would help Aretha become a singer. She gained her singing talent and her understanding of music from her mother. From her father, she learned how to be enthusiastic and have a fantastic stage presence – emulating his persona during his sermons. She also took inspiration from his sermons when she eventually became a gospel singer.
When she was 5, the family moved to Detroit, and this is where Aretha spent her formative years. While she owed a lot to her parents, her family life wasn’t the easiest. Her father was a womanizer and his constant infidelity caused the family to break up.
Aretha would spend time in between her parents who eventually lived in different cities. Her mother died of a heart attack just before Aretha turned 10.
After this, Aretha was raised by her father as well as several of her relatives – including a family friend, Mahalia Jackson, the famous gospel singer.
During her youth, Aretha learned how to play the piano and also perfected her singing skills. She dropped out of school in the tenth grade and decided to pursue a career as an entertainer.
She began her singing career as a gospel singer. She performed in her church and soon enough she was performing the circuit among religious circles. By the time she was in her teens, she was making her living as a gospel singer. She was also meeting many famous singers of the time including Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, and Mavis Staples. It wouldn’t be long until she’d join their ranks.
In fact, it wouldn’t be long until she’d transition from a gospel princess to becoming the Queen of Soul.
Before we tell you more about Aretha Franklin’s life and career and why she was under FBI surveillance, please like this video and subscribe to FactsVerse for more interesting stories about pop culture and your favorite celebrities and more fascinating biopics! Now, let’s get back to the video…
HOW ARETHA FRANKLIN BECAME THE QUEEN OF SOUL
When she turned 18, Aretha Franklin decided that she wanted to pursue a career as a singer. Her father became her manager and he helped her get a deal with Columbia Records. Despite the fact that she was still relatively new, she had gotten offers from both RCA Records and Motown Records to perform for their studios.
However, she stuck with Columbia and released her first single in 1960. The song was called “Today I Sing the Blues” and it became a huge hit. Her first album was released the following year and was called “Aretha: With the Ray Bryant Combo.”
The album included the song “Won’t Be Long” and became a huge hit. She was now in demand and her songs became regular hits on the radio and she began touring around the country performing her songs.
By the time the mid 1960s came around, she had released several songs and was now high in demand. She eventually left her record label as they could no longer match her desired pay. She moved to Atlantic Records and it was with this company that she arguably recorded her most famous songs.
It was a song that was originally released in 1965 and was written and performed by Otis Redding. It was a slower song but Aretha’s rendition was upbeat and is easily one of the most recognizable American songs of all time. “Respect” solidified her position as the Queen of Soul.
The rest of her career was really an upward slope. “Respect” was such a huge hit that Aretha Franklin produced hit after hit and soon became one of the hardest working artists in show business.
She had earned her respect and we knew what it meant to her. She was the undisputed Queen of Soul and her music continues to inspire others today. In fact, we can’t really think of a single artist who comes close to matching her excellence.
In total, Aretha Franklin released 38 studio albums, 6 live albums, 62 compilation albums, and a whopping 131 singles!
She had an amiable personality, and one couldn’t imagine that she’d ever be thought of as anything but a great singer. But for one American institution, she was also a troublemaker….
ARETHA FRANKLIN HAS A HUGE FBI FILE AFTER 40-YEAR SURVEILLANCE
The Queen of Soul was watched by the FBI for 40 years, from 1967, when she was in the early stages of her career all the way to 2007 when she was already an American icon!
It wasn’t until 2018, the day after Aretha Franklin died that a Freedom of Information report requested to release the FBI file on her. And after 40 years of surveillance, one can imagine that this was such a huge file!
The FBI file contained many words that sparked concern in the eyes of the government. These included phrases relating to communism, black nationalism, radical politics, racial violence, and even hatred toward America.
During her youth, Aretha Franklin met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and eventually sang at his funeral. While he is remembered today as one of the greatest Americans who ever lived, one must remember that he was a controversial figure during the Civil Rights Era.
Since Aretha Franklin was associated with the Civil Rights Movement, there were worries that she would be a negative influence on the youth of America. There were worries that she’d stoke racial tensions in the country and that she’d encourage black militant movements.
So, did Aretha Franklin know that the FBI had an eye on her for most of her life?
Her son Kecalf isn’t sure himself and stated that he didn’t know if his mother knew that she was under constant surveillance by the FBI.
The FBI did try to connect Aretha Franklin to radical movements but had no luck in doing so. According to her son, she had nothing to hide. And now, as we look back on her life and career we do have to ask ourselves – was it justified for the FBI to watch her for so long?
We can only expect the debate to continue for the foreseeable future…
ARETHA FRANKLIN’S LIFE AND LEGACY
She was listed as the 9th greatest artist of all time by Rolling Stone Magazine. In fact, she was actually listed twice!
She is still one of the best-selling artists of all time!
Her songs have been in the Top 40 and the Top 10 on various music charts. Even if you haven’t heard her name, you’ve likely heard her songs.
The amount of films that have used ‘Respect’ as a theme song are too numerous to mention. But perhaps the best use of this classic song in a film was when it was used as the end credits song in the film “Back To School” starring Rodney Dangerfield.
She was often featured in documentaries to discuss American music and her career. She played Mrs. Murphy in The Blues Brothers and its sequel Blues Brothers 2000. In the first film, she performed her song ‘Think’ which is one of the highlights of the classic film!
It’s been four years since we lost the Queen of Soul and one can’t help but feel a sense of emptiness since her passing. We can’t replace her or even find another singer who’ll even come close to her excellence.
But we can only be glad that she left behind such a great body of work.
And for that, she’s got our R-E-S-P-E-C-T….
So, now let’s hear from you:
Are you a fan of Aretha Franklin? Did you know about her FBI file and the surveillance?
In fact, here’s what we want to know from you:
Do you think that there are artists today that are being watched by the FBI?
Or do today’s artists not have the same impact they once did during Aretha Franklin’s heyday?
Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.
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We’ll see you in the next video!