Aretha Franklin passed away on August 16, 2018, at the age of 73, following a long-fought battle with pancreatic cancer. With a career spanning six decades, 42 studio albums, 18 Grammys, and 75 million records sold, Franklin more than earned the moniker as the “Queen of Soul.”
Throughout her career, Franklin did it all – she wrote music, sang, acted, and inspired countless singers that followed her. Let’s now take a look back at some of the most interesting facts from the late soul singer’s career.
1. She Was The First Woman To Be Inducted Into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame
Some may find it hard to believe, but Aretha Franklin became the first woman to be admitted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame upon her 1987 induction. The soul singer made history when she broke up the previously all-boys club. Franklin was not in attendance the night of the ceremony, but she provided a written statement, which was read aloud by producer Clive Davis (via Bustle):
“To be the first woman inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a historical moment and indeed a milestone in my career … It is with many thanks and appreciation that I proudly accept and take my place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”
2. She Taught Herself Piano Without Knowing How To Read Sheet Music
Aretha Franklin attended the Julliard School for classical training in piano, but not until 1998, decades after she taught herself how to play the piano by ear. Not yet able to read sheet music, a teenage Franklin taught herself how to play music by ear.
When asked by an interviewer how she learned to play, Franklin bluntly responded by saying, “I play by ear.”
3. She Performed At The Inaugurations Of Not One, Not Two, But Three Presidents
It is an honor for any musician to perform at the inauguration of one president, but you know you’re onto something when you’re asked to perform at three inaugurations throughout your career. Well, that exact honor goes to Franklin, who performed for three presidents over the course of four decades. Franklin first performed at the festivities on the eve of Jimmy Carter’s 1977 inauguration. She returned to Washington for a two-hour concert on the night of Bill Clinton’s first inauguration in 1993. Her most iconic performance, however, came at the 2009 inauguration of Barack Obama, where she performed a memorable “My Country, Tis Of Thee.”
4. She Only Had One Film Role Throughout Her Career
While she technically has two film credits to her name, Franklin technically only played one character throughout her career: Ms. Brown in “The Blues Brothers” and the film’s oft-forgotten sequel “Blues Brothers 2000.” Her scene from the first film, which involved her singing a new rendition of her 1968 hit “Think,” has gone down as one of the most iconic scenes in cinematic history. Here’s what the Queen herself had to say about it (via Biography.com):
“The Blues Brothers was something I enjoyed making tremendously,” Franklin wrote in her autobiography, Aretha Franklin: The Queen of Soul. “It was my debut in film. The only thing I really didn’t like about it was the hours. I had to get up at seven o’clock in the morning to get ready to be on the set. But once you got there, and once you started rolling, then everything fell into place. I had a lot of fun with Belushi, and Dan Aykroyd—great guys—big sense of humor, and very, very professional and astute. So I had a good time. It makes everything so much easier when you’re having fun and you’re enjoying what you’re doing.”
5. She Sold Upwards Of 75 Million Albums
With a career as long as Franklin’s, it’s not a stretch to say she sold many, many millions of records, but you might be amazed to learn that she sold upwards of 75 million albums from her first release until her death in August 2018. Though most of her hits were released in the 1960s and 1970s, Franklin would go on to release a steady flow of hit songs and albums in the 1980s and beyond.
6. She Was Nominated For 44 Grammys And Won 18
Over the course of her career, Franklin released 42 studio albums, 46 compilations, six live albums, and a staggering 131 singles. For that effort, Franklin was nominated for 44 Grammys, of which she took home 18, as well as three special Grammys, including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1991.
Her first Grammy came in 1967 for her most iconic song: “Respect,” which was added to the Grammy Hall of Fame along with other Franklin songs: “Chain Of Fools,” “Amazing Grace,” “A Natural Woman (You Make Me Feel Like),” and “I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You.”
7. She Had An Extreme Fear Of Flying
One could say that, in addition to being the “Queen of Soul,” Aretha Franklin was also the “Queen of the Road,” due to her tendency to take her custom-built tour bus in lieu of taking to the friendly skies to get from gig to gig.
While she was only an infrequent flyer, traveling abroad for performances all across Europe, Franklin’s travel habits changed following a 1982 incident with extreme turbulence following a gig at an Atlanta, Ga., concert venue.
Years after the incident, Franklin told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
“I was leaving Atlanta in a very small plane,” she recalled. “A two-engine prop plane, I believe. And it was a very bad flight. I’m very much a ground person now.”
She would only fly on one more occasion before her death in 2018, and even that trip was from Detroit to Chicago, short enough to where Franklin said she could “walk home” if she was not comfortable.
Franklin continued to perform up until a little less than a year before her August 2018 death, with her final performance at Elton John’s November 2017 annual AIDS Foundation gala, where she belted out some of the greatest hits from her legendary career.
Following her death, Elton John took to Instagram to pay his respects to the late Franklin as well as to sing her praise for that final performance (via RollingStone):
“She was obviously unwell, and I wasn’t sure she could perform. But Aretha did, and she raised the roof. She sang and played magnificently, and we all wept. We were witnessing the greatest soul artist of all time.”
Franklin was originally set to take the stage several times earlier this year, including a set at the New Orleans Jazz Fest this spring, but she was forced to cancel the gigs, citing her deteriorating health.
9. She Sang “Amazing Grace” For An Even Sponsored By Pope Francis
Pope Francis concluded his 2015 tour of the North American continent with a special concert in Philadelphia. Among the many performers who took the stage at the Festival of Families concert was Aretha Franklin who brought the house down with a touching rendition of “Amazing Grace.”
Leading up to the concert, Franklin conducted an interview with the New York Times, where she said this to say about Pope Francis:
“His humility and his concern with people, how he refers to himself as the son of an immigrant — I’m most impressed with that. That just tells me that he remembers who he is and his person, and particularly, honoring his father: ‘I am the son of.’ And the fact that he is not overwhelmed by his title. He remembers where came from and who he is, as well as being the pope. There is greatness in humility, so I appreciate that.”
10. Her Funeral Was Fit For A Queen
It’s only natural that the “Queen of Soul” would have a funeral that was fit for a queen. Held on Friday, August 31, 2018, the funeral was attended by hundreds of celebrities, civil rights leaders, politicians, and family, as they all said their final goodbyes to the woman who paved the way for an entire industry. Highlighted performances by the likes of Ariana Grande, Jennifer Hudson, and Stevie Wonder, remarks by former president Bill Clinton, and a number of other touching tributes, the funeral was an all-day affair that was watched around the world by millions of the Queen’s adoring fans.