Aretha Franklin was born March 25, 1942, in Memphis, Tennessee. Her father, the Reverend C.L. Franklin, became the pastor of the 4,500-member New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit in 1946 and was a nationally known gospel singer (“the Man with the Million-Dollar Voice”). Her mother, Barbara, also a gospel singer, deserted the family when Aretha was six and died four years later. Aretha and her sisters, Carolyn and Erma, sang regularly at their father’s church, and Aretha’s first recordings were made there when she was 14.
Aretha Franklin is unarguably one of the giants of soul music, and indeed of American pop as a whole. More than any other performer, she epitomized soul at its most gospel-charged. Her astonishing run of late ’60s hits with Atlantic Records (Respect, I Never Loved a Man, Chain of Fools, Baby I Love You, I Say a Little Prayer, Think, The House That Jack Built and several others) earned her the title “Lady Soul,” which she has worn uncontested ever since.
Yet as much of an international institution as she’s become, much of her work (outside of her recordings for Atlantic in the late ’60s and early ’70s) is erratic and only fitfully inspired, making discretion a necessity when collecting her records.