Like many soul singers, Aretha Franklin found her musical roots set deep in gospel. Her father was the Reverend of a church in Detroit where she and her sisters, Carolyn and Erma, frequently sang. At the age of 14 she made her first recording as a gospel singer. Though the up-and-coming Motown Record label tried to sign Franklin early in her career, she ended up recording her first records with Columbia Records in the 1960s.
Aretha Franklin recorded for Columbia in the first half of the 60s, producing R&B hits like 'Rock-a-by Your Baby With a Dixie Melody', but her early success was moderate compared with what was to come. While signed with Columbia, Franklin could not reach her full potential, as her managers forced her to record more pop-oriented material and put her real passion, soul music, to the side. Soon Franklin left Columbia and signed with Atlantic Records, where producer Jerry Wexler let her true spirit shine. Franklin went with Wexler to Alabama to record her first single for Columbia, 'I Never Loved a Man', with Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section backing up her soulful sound.
With the help of Atlantic records and her newfound freedom, Franklin finally became a superstar. In the late 60s her success spread worldwide, and her soul tunes were reaching pop fans as well as R&B lovers. Franklin became a symbol of black America, reflecting the new confidence and pride of African Americans since the civil rights movement. The power of Franklin's music reached millions worldwide. She produced ten Top Ten hits in an 18-month period. The next five years were a great success. As well as original songs, she recorded gospel, blues, pop, and rock covers of bands like the Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, Same Cooke, and the Drifters.
Franklin was still topping the charts in the 1970s with hits like 'Spanish Harlem', 'Bridge Over Troubled Water', and 'Day Dreaming'. She produced her next two albums, Live at Fillmore West and Amazing Grace, which both charted well. Amazing Grace was heavy with gospel sounds, which she recorded with James Cleveland and the Southern California Community Choir. It made it to the Top Ten'”a difficult feat for a gospel-rich single on the pop charts. Hits like 'Angel' and 'Until You Come Back to Me' (a Stevie Wonder cover) were released over the next few years, but her success seemed to be declining. Her contract with Atlantic records ended in the late 1970s and, seemingly, so did her superstardom.
Throughout the 80s and 90s she released a few more albums, which were greeted with moderate success, but as her recording career dwindled, her performance career was still alive and well. While record sales were going down, ticket sales were going up. Aretha Franklin can get a live audience on their feet and cheering at any venue across the country. Her stage presence and powerful voice have not weakened over the years. Her presence commands respect and her shows demand praise as she wows audiences with contemporary and classic R&B sounds. She remains one of the most respected singers of the genre and her influences are everywhere.
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