by Graham Pierrepoint
She’s arguably one of the finest singers and one of the most iconic faces in American music history, having been performing for over fifty years – but this week, Aretha Franklin, commonly nicknamed the Queen of Soul, announced that she would be retiring from music to be able to spend more time with her family. The legendary soul singer, whose hits ‘Respect’, ‘I Say a Little Prayer’ and ‘Natural Woman’, is widely regarded as one of the powerful voices of her generation – and is also seen as a pivotal figure for black pride during the mid to late 1960s. She was, in fact, decorated by Dr Martin Luther King at the height of her fame.
Franklin advised that she would be recording one final collection of songs with fellow soul legend Stevie Wonder before retiring from performing and recording for good – a move which will provide a fitting finale for over five decades of service to popular music. Franklin’s unique voice and fiery delivery made her into a star overnight under the wing of Atlantic Records in the 1960s, who helped to put the soul singer on the map for years to come. It’s during this time that Franklin produced some of her best-known songs, many of which have continued to receive airplay and tributes across the years.
Franklin’s music took a further spike in popularity in the 1980s as she was heavily involved in the hit movie The Blues Brothers with John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. The movie, a comic musical peppered with blues standards and original songs, saw Franklin take a pivotal scene in a laundromat, where she performed the number ‘Think’ in a brief segue among the movie’s more hectic action sequences. While she was one of many blues and soul legends to help bolster the film’s incredible personnel and soundtrack, it was a huge boost for her own career – allowing her to score big comeback hits in the 1980s with ‘Who’s Zoomin’ Who’, ‘Freeway of Love’ and, perhaps most notably, the smash ‘I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)’ with the late George Michael.
It can hardly be argued that Franklin is a living legend and hugely important in the history of soul and popular music as a whole – meaning that her eventual retirement will be all the more saddening when it occurs. As a winner of seven consecutive Grammys and with over twenty number one hits in the US alone, it’s unlikely her star will ever fade entirely.