In the words of President Barack Obama, Aretha Franklin "helped define the American experience".
Almost no other artist has influenced culture in the way she did, blending elements of R&B and gospel in her songs that ultimately influenced generations of musicians — everyone from Alicia Keys to Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey to Adele. She was a one-of-a-kind powerhouse female vocalists. She was also the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and won eighteen Grammy awards over the course of her career. Many also attribute Franklin to giving gospel music a voice given her roots in the community and singing in the choir leading to her receiving a recording contract at eighteen. Her songs also became anthems for social change movements, including those fighting for racial and gender equality.She performed at two presidential inaugurations, had her voice declared a national treasure by the Michigan Legislature, and performed with London's Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on her final album.
To celebrate her life and legacy, check out our selection of Aretha tracks to take a listen to today.
"I Say a Little Prayer" | from Aretha Now | 1968
A major reinventing of the original recording by Dionne Warwick, the track significantly helped to launch her U.K. career. It was also intended to be a B side track despite having excellent chat performance. It was also one of the songs included in her final performance.
"Respect" | from I Never Loved A Man The Way I Loved You | 1967
This song has taken on an added layer of relevance in the #MeToo era, but truth be told, it has always been an anthem for equality and understanding. A song for women, performed by a woman of color, it has spanned a number of movements (even for musicians who were seeking fair royalty payments for their music).
"Eleanor Rigby" | from This Girl's in Love with You | 1970
An iconic song in its original format took on a new format when Franklin covered it. Although there have been many version of the Beatles' work, critics agree almost none compare to Aretha's. She went on to cover a slew of other Beatles' songs, giving them a soulful edge no other artists could create.
"(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" | from Lady Soul | 1968
Originally co-written by Carole King and then recorded by her three years later, this song stemmed from an idea co-written by Gerry Goffin when thinking about the concept of a "natural man" and was then commissioned to write a song for Franklin's album. Now, the track has become a staple to reflect how blues influences modern music.
"Son Of a Preacher Man" | from A Brand New Me: Aretha Franklin with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra | 2017
Although the Dusty Springfield version was admittedly more popular, Franklin's version also managed to make the charts. When you listen to this latest recording of it from her work with the Philharmonic in London, you will be amazed by her powerhouse vocals mixing with their majestic instruments. This is music at its best.
Rachel A.G. Gilman is the Creator/Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Creature.