From her father’s church to the hallowed grounds of Washington, raised on gospel and bathed in rhythm and blues, Aretha Franklin left her mark on music like few other blues singers.
Her personal life was a struggle. She had a lifelong battle with her weight and alcoholism. But nothing could diminish her stature as music royalty. In a career than spanned more than six decades, she was the embodiment of Afro-American music, combining heart-wrenching blues, uplifting soul, classy jazz and hopeful gospels to tell her stories and the feelings of her people. She performed for kindred, kings with music that united both. In 1968, she sang at the funeral of civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr. She performed at the inauguration of two US presidents, delivering a stirring rendition of My Country ‘Tis of Thee at the January 2009 ceremony for Barrack Obama. She became the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, received the Kennedy Centre Honours in 1994, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest US civilian honour in 2005.
When Aretha Franklin died on 16 August 2018 (aged 76), the clip that was shared most widely – the most potent reminder of her raw, soul-stirring emotional force – was a 2015 performance of her 1967 hit (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman. The rendition at the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony brought a tear to Barack Obama’s eye, and left the song’s co-writer Carole King in raptures.