A native of Detroit, Michigan, Franklin unleashed her fury on the American public in 1963 with her unforgettable hit "What the Fuck You Looking At, My Sweet Jesus?" on The Ed Sullivan Show. Said Sullivan: "Folks, if you think she is big now, just give her four years of a little bit respect, and I promise you the results will be beyond spectacular."
Franklin was born in the mean streets of Detroit, to parents LaMont and Dashiki. By the age of five, Baby Aretha was shattering glasses with her voice at 195 decibels, and was on her way to 200 decibels. Dashiki, who was none too bright, was a loving mother, and believed in the age-old adage that "A singing baby is a happy baby." "Just look at the little baby, she's a happy child," Mrs. Franklin would point out to anyone they would meet.
Franklin came from humble beginnings, singing gospel in the choir of her father's Mt. Sinai Holy Tabernacle of Heavily Baby Jesus's Love and Mercy AME Zion Church. By the time she was fourteen, her massive voice made it impossible for the choir box at the Church to accommodate anyone but her. While she had tried singing, Aretha excelled at wailing — which she did at her bellicose best. According to Brother Leon Brothers, "No one, and I mean no one, could out-wail Aretha." Mrs. Franklin began to get a prickling feeling of pride, which she knew was a sin, so she waddled the child down to Mowtown Records, where Barry Gordy signed her as a contralto and tackle for a group to be named at a later date.
Waiting was fine with Aretha, as there was a Jolly Pirate Donut Shop across the street. While waiting in line, in the 90-degree heat, a young Smokey Robinson accidentally brushed aside Aretha, who let loose with a bombastic sonic blast of "What the fuck you looking at?" After regaining his mind, Robinson darted back across the street and informed Gordy that he would write a song for the very biggest sound ever to come out of Detroit. In 1960, Aretha pursued secular music and signed with Columbia, to only modest success. In the fall of 1963, Franklin was invited to sing on The Ed Sullivan Show; the rest, as they say, is showbiz legend. Her signing with Atlantic Records in 1967 brought her great success. Some of her biggest hits included "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" (originally a minor hit for Otis Redding), Carole King's "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman", "Spanish Harlem", "Think", "Chain of Fools", "Rock Steady" (not to be confused with The Whispers' 1987 hit), "Something I Can Feel", and Stevie Wonder's "Until You Come Back to Me". By the end of the '60s, Franklin was crowned the Queen of Soul.
Aretha left Atlantic in 1979 and signed with Clive Davis's Arista Records. The Luther Vandross-produced album's title track, "Jump to It", was her first Top 40 hit since 1976. Her next album, Who's Zooming Who, was her first Platinum album and spawned the hits "Freeway of Love", "Who's Zomming Who", and "Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves" (feat. The Eurythmics). Also during this time, Franklin appeared in a cameo as the sassy waitress in The Blues Brothers. Later in the 1980s, she recorded an unexpected cover of The Rolling Stones' "Jumpin' Jack Flash", and an even-more-unexpected George Michael duet "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)". In 1998, Franklin scored her final Top 40 hit with "A Rose Is Still a Rose". That same year, she memorably filled in for an ill Luciano Pavarotti, singing below her normal range on Giacomo Puccini's "Nessun dorma". In 1999, she provided her voice for the Pepsi commercials with Hallie Eisenberg, and cameoed as a diner patron.
With 112 hits, Aretha became the most-charted female artist in Billboard history. She received much attention for her appearances in the media. The New York Times media critic Stanford O'Shea pointed out that Franklin has the "widest range in show business, bar none," and "Aretha deserves to praised for her revolutionizing of spaghetti straps, polyester, and soul music." Although Franklin had won 20 Grammy Awards, she had only two trophies left. In a candid and (literally) revealing interview that Franklin gave Woman's Weekly magazine dressed in a see-through negligee, she revealed how 18 of the trophies had been unfortunately destroyed in a 2008 Universal Studios fire.
Feud with Mariah Carey
In 2005, Mariah Carey shared the stage with Franklin at a benefit performance (benefitting both singers as they split the ticket sales) and all seemed to go well until Carey appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and Carey commented that the two shared the stage as equals. Franklin, who always gets top billing, released a statement that said: "I believe that Mariah is mistaken." According to Dave Chappelle, the official language liaison between white people and black people: "While that might have been what Arthea said to the press, in context it's much subtler, and translates to 'Who in the fuck does that two-bit uppity little half-breed ho from Long Island think she is? Her voice is so fucking high only a dog can hear it. I can squash her like a bug.'"
When asked for a comment, Carey fired back that Franklin "is bitter and old, and jealous. Jealous because I have tits; tits that are creamy pert and that men desire; she just has these saggy, baggy old moo moo cow udders that haven't given milk in fifty years." "I'm gunning for you Mariah," retorted Aretha, "so expect a donkey punch the next time I see you, so help me JESUS!" Franklin had also gone on record saying that Diana Ross is "an overpaid skank who slept her way to the middle, and then forced Florence Ballard out of The Supremes in 1967 over a half-empty bottle of King Cobra."
Franklin was terrified of airplanes, and instead preferred to sit in the back of the Greyhound Bus traveling from one venue to the next. She bathed each day in olive oil and fresh jello to help tone her skin.
In 2018, Franklin was reported to be gravely ill. She was hospitalized and then put in hospice at her Detroit home, before passing away at the age of 76. Said Rev. Jasper Williams Jr.: "This is a huge loss for the music world. She had so much sass and personality. There was no one like her. She was unmistakably Aretha." A memorial service was held in her hometown of Detroit and mostly went by smoothly, though Louis Farrakhan's guest appearance proved to be controversial.