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The Life of Aretha Franklin

But, in general, pious African Americans believed that popular music, especially the blues, was necessarily connected with a sinful, irreligious way of living. Most of the gospel singers chose to stick to the church, "prompted by faith or by principle or by reluctance to forsake the relative security of the church for the precarious fortunes of show business" (Pleasants 325). But the Franklin family did not have such objections.

The Franklins were one of the most prominent black families in Detroit and performers, including future stars such as Smokey Robinson, were among the family's friends. Berry Gordy even tried to sign the very young Aretha to his new Motown record company (Romanowski and George-Warren 353). Reverend Franklin had a national reputation and he frequently entertained visiting African American musicians of all types--Art Tatum, Dinah Washington, Fats Domino, and Sam Cooke. Cooke, a prominent gospel singer who had recently crossed over to popular music, was a major influence on Aretha Franklin's career, and he wanted Aretha, nearing the age of 18, to sign with his label, RCA. Her father had no objection to this direction for Aretha's career. In fact, as Jerry Wexler noted, Franklin himself "lived the pop life to the hilt," and when members of his congregation would deplore his daughter's secular music, "the Reverend set them straight in a hurry" (Wexler and Ritz 206).

When she was 18, Franklin began working in clubs, and was signed to Columbia Records by the legendary jazz and pop producer, John Hammond. Franklin recorded for the label from 1960 to 1966. But, the company never managed to find a popular style that would make the most of her unusually strong voice and her gospel roots. At first, Hammond "guided her in the direction of classic jazz and blues singers such as Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday" (Helander 200). But she never achieved more than modest success at Columbia. Franklin placed three...

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The Life of Aretha Franklin. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 04:45, September 21, 2017, from
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