Hey, Aretha, sing one for meLet him know our life’s in miseryWill you sing a song that will touch his heartAnd make him sorry that we are apart(Cat Power: “Aretha, Sing One For Me”, 2008)

Soul music comes from the church. Whether Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles or later Whitney Houston: Almost all the great singers of this art form had their first musical experiences in American churches and were socialized with gospel.

But no other musician was so strongly influenced by this trend as Aretha Franklin. Born on March 25, 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee, the singer was the daughter of a Baptist pastor and came into contact with the sacred music of the Afro-American churches as a child. From an early age, she sang with her sisters Carolyn and Erma in the choir of the New Bethel Baptist Church, where her father delivered thunderous sermons from the pulpit.

Aretha’s extraordinary musical talent was discovered early on, and she drew attention to herself above all with her powerful voice. In 1956, at the tender age of 14, she recorded a gospel album, The Gospel Soul of Aretha Franklin. Accompanied only by a church organ, she sings religious songs on it.

Gospel music would shape her for the rest of her life. Not only as an important creative source, she also repeatedly recorded songs or entire albums with gospel. In the 1960s, however, she also began to record pop albums – which at times led to serious quarrels with her father. Who, like many preachers at the time, condemned secular music as “sinful”.

However, their albums, recorded in the first half of the 1960s, were not particularly successful. This was mainly due to the carelessly put together material. Sometimes she sang simple pop songs, sometimes kitschy jazz ballads – nobody really knew what to do with her powerful voice.

That changed abruptly when producer Jerry Wexler signed her to Atlantic Records, a label known for his rhythm and blues recordings. Wexler knew immediately what sound suited her voice: southern soul. A bit rougher music that, unlike the poppy soul hits of Detroit’s Motown, had rough edges.

And so Wexler promoted Detroit-raised Aretha to the Deep South, to Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. There she recorded the song “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)” in January 1967 – it became the first top ten hit of her career.

The other songs were written in New York – but with musicians from the South. Because Aretha had found her sound. The second single “Respect” was number 1 in the USA, the accompanying album reached number 2. A star was born.

What followed was one of the longest creative high phases in music history. Like the Rolling Stones, who had a similar run between 1967 and 1972, Aretha Franklin achieved everything artistically during this period. “Lady Soul” and “Aretha Now” (both 1968), “Soul ’69”, “Spirit in the Dark” (1970) and “Young, Gifted

The albums they created during that time became classics and are still considered the pinnacle of the genre. What makes her music so special: Aretha Franklin’s art draws on different traditions. On the one hand from a very old, religious line that knows about the sacred and tells of the afterlife. But at the same time she is firmly rooted in earthly misery. Nothing worldly is alien to your lyrics. Franklin experienced much of what she tells about. She sings of love and hate. About infidelity, addiction and violence. Discrimination against Blacks in America. And the role of women in a male-dominated world. Her song “Respect,” adapted from Otis Redding, became one of the anthems of the feminist movement.

Within just a few years, the young pastor’s daughter became a superstar, the “Queen of Soul”. A rapid rise that Franklin did not process without aids. She took refuge in alcohol. Her career suffered, as did her private life, and several marriages failed.

Her role in the cult film “The Blues Brothers” helped Franklin gain new popularity in the 1980s. Duets with George Michael, Annie Lennox, James Brown and Elton John catapulted her into the charts.

Politically, Aretha Franklin supported the Democrats, performing for Bill Clinton at the White House in 1994 and singing at the inauguration of Barack Obama in 2009. She came into contact with politics at an early age: her father C. L. Franklin was a well-known civil rights activist.

In later years, Franklin was showered with honors. She was the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, has received 20 Grammy Awards in her lifetime and was voted the best female singer of all time by Rolling Stone in 2008. To this day, she is one of the women with the most sold records worldwide.

Aretha Franklin has been living in seclusion for the last few years after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2010. She died on August 16, 2018 in a Detroit hospice surrounded by her family. Her fame has not faded since her passing.