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VH1 Divas Live: The One and Only Aretha Franklin


Aretha Franklin

The legendary singer is known as the Queen of Soul, and for good reason.

Photo of Aretha FRANKLIN

Early days

Aretha Franklin was born in Memphis, Tenn., in 1942. Her parents had a troubled relationship and she was mostly raised by her grandmother. Music was in her life early, as gospel legends Mahalia Jackson and Clara Ward regularly visited the home.

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Music and motherhood

Franklin was just 19 during this 1961 recording session for Columbia Records in New York. She had her first children when she was just 13 and then 16, and in a throwback to her own childhood, they were cared for by her grandmother while she pursued a musical career.

Sign on the dotted line

In 1966, Franklin signed with Atlantic Records and their famed executive Jerry Wexler (seated, with Franklin's manager standing), who reportedly coined the term "rhythm and blues." They would collaborate on 14 albums over eight years. Of Franklin, Wexler said "Her judgment was impeccable, her execution miraculous and all I could do was provide the right setting or offer the occasional suggestion."


The Queen of Soul and Rev. King

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Franklin family friend, and she performed in support of the civil-rights leader in the 1960s.

On June 28, 1968 she became the second African-American woman to appear on the cover of Time magazine

Cover girl

On June 28, 1968, Franklin became one of the first African-American women to appear on the cover of Time magazine. Her hits include "Respect," "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)," and "Freeway of Love."

BLUES BROTHERS, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Aretha Franklin, 1980

Getting down in the diner

Franklin played a musical waitress in the 1980 classic "The Blues Brothers," with Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi as Jake and Elwood Blues. She performed her hit single "Think." The movie appearance gave her career a needed boost and she experienced a musical resurgence in the 1980s.

Aretha Franklin in Concert circa 1972

Am I blue?

Franklin wears a shiny blue futuristic outfit featuring her first initial on the collar in this undated photo. In 2008, Rolling Stone magazine ranked her No. 1 on its list of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. Singer Mary J. Blige wrote, "She is the reason why women want to sing. Aretha has everything — the power, the technique."

Jeffrey Mayer / WireImage
Aretha Franklin w/Keith Richards and Ron Wood (of the Rolling Stones) performing \"Jumpin' Jack Flash\" for that movie's soundtrack, 1986

Rolling with the Stones

Franklin joined The Rolling Stones to perform her cover of their hit "Jumpin' Jack Flash" for that 1986 film. Keith Richards produced Franklin's version, and he and Ronnie Wood play guitar on the recording.

VH1 Divas Live - April 14, 1998

Natural women, all

On the first "VH1 Divas" special in 1998, Franklin was joined by Gloria Estefan, Mariah Carey, Carole King, Celine Dion and Shania Twain to perform her 1967 hit "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman." King had co-written the song with inspiration from Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler.

Kmazur / WireImage
US President Bill Clinton (R) along with First Lad

Honored by the president

President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton honored Franklin with the 1999 National Medal of Arts on Sept. 26, 1999, in Washington.

Stephen Jaffe / AFP
VH1 Divas Live: The One and Only Aretha Franklin

Lady in red

In 2001, VH1 honored Franklin with "VH1 Divas Live: The One and Only Aretha Franklin" at New York's Radio City Music Hall. Mary J. Blige, the Backstreet Boys, Stevie Wonder and Kid Rock were among those performing during the special.

Frank Micelotta / Getty Images North America
PS2 Estate Day 3 - 6th Annual P. Diddy White Party

Two generations of stars

Franklin poses with Sean "P. Diddy" Combs at Combs' annual White Party in 2004.

Dimitrios Kambouris / WireImage
Singer Aretha Franklin closes her eyes a

More White House honors

Franklin closes her eyes as her achievements are read out before President George W. Bush presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civil award, in the East Room of the White House on Nov. 9, 2005, in Washington. The medal is presented to those who have made contributions to national security, world peace, or culture. Carol Burnett, seated second from left, was also one of that year's recipients.

Mandel Ngan / AFP
ARETHA FRANKLIN Live at the Apollo  For the First Time In 20 Years

Lady of many names

Franklin has been dubbed the Queen of Soul and Soul Sister Number 1.

Mychal Watts / WireImage
2008 MusiCares Person Of The Year Honoring Aretha Franklin - Backstage and Audience

Who's the real 'Idol'?

Singer Fantasia, left, who won "American Idol" in 2004, poses with Franklin, who was honored as the MusiCares Person of the Year on Feb. 8, 2008, in Los Angeles. MusiCares is a charity that helps musicians in time of financial, medical or personal need.

Lester Cohen / WireImage
2008 MusiCares Person Of The Year Honoring Aretha Franklin - Show

Taking the stage

Franklin performs during the 2008 event honoring her as MusiCare's person of the year. Other honorees have included Tony Bennett, Bono, Natalie Cole, Stevie Wonder and Brian Wilson.

Jason Squires / WireImage
Aretha Franklin \"The Torch Of Freedom: A Holiday Tribute To Our Troops\"

Supporting the troops

Franklin performs during "The Torch of Freedom: A Holiday Tribute to Our Troops," a benefit concert presented by Soldiers', Sailors', Marines', Coast Guard and Airmen's Club Inc. on Dec. 14, 2008, in New York.

Roger Kisby / Getty Images North America
Mandela Day: A 46664 Celebration Concert - Show

Honoring Mandela

Franklin performs during a concert honoring Nelson Mandela on July 18, 2009, the South African leader's 91st birthday. 46664 is the prisoner number imposed on Mandela, who was the 466th prisoner to arrive at Robben Island prison in 1964.

Dave M. Benett / Getty Images North America
Image: Aretha Franklin

Legend in her own time

In 2009, Franklin performs at the 25th Anniversary Rock & Roll Hall of Fame concert at Madison Square Garden in New York. She was the first woman inducted into the Rock Hall, entering in its second year, 1987.

Henny Ray Abrams / FR151332 AP
Image: Aretha Franklin

Let freedom ring

Franklin was the only featured singer at the 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama. She sang "My Country Tis Of Thee," and her striking hat, complete with crystal-studded bow, was the talk of the day. Some say it was chosen to reference the similar headwear worn by Mahalia Jackson during the 1963 March on Washington. Franklin later donated the hat to the Smithsonian, where it is on display along with Michelle Obama's inaugural ball gown.

Ron Edmonds / AP
Image: File photo of Aretha Franklin in New York

At the Apollo

Franklin attends the 2010 Apollo Theater Spring Benefit Concert & Awards Ceremony in New York. Also in 2010, she received an honorary doctorate in music from Yale University.

Natalie Behring / X00930
Aretha Franklin & Condoleezza Rice In Concert

Teaming up

Franklin and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice perform with the Philadelphia Orchestra on July 27, 2010. The event was a benefit to support inner-city children and education programs.

Jeff Fusco / Getty Images North America