Gogglebox Australia

Gogglebox talk: Remembering Aretha Franklin

This week, the Goggleboxers watched a Foxtel Smooth/Arts documentary celebrating the life of the greatest soul singer of our - and many others' - generation.

Every evening in Australia, more than four million of us choose to spend a night in front of the telly. Have you ever wondered what other people are watching? Or what they thought about the passing of Aretha Franklin, Queen of Soul and voice of a song that has become synonymous with feminism and civil rights.

Humble beginnings

Born March 25, 1942, you could say Aretha was born to sing. While her mother was a gospel singer, Aretha was raised primarily by her father, a touring preacher whose sermons were nationally broadcast and earned him the nickname of the "man with the golden voice. When they were home, the Franklins were visited by musical friends including a young Sam Cooke, singer Dinah Washington and jazz pianist Art Tatum. Another frequent visitor was Martin Luther King - Aretha would go on to tour with the civil rights leader and also sing at his 1966 funeral.

Having taught herself to play the piano at 10, Aretha started touring alongside her dad at 12 and made her first recordings at the tender age of 14 - around the same time gave birth to her first son (a second arrived shortly after) and dropped out of high school. 

Rising star

At 18, Aretha left the kids with her family and moved to New York after being signed to Columbia Records. But the albums produced - a mix of jazz, remakes of pop hits and tributes - failed to set the world on fire. 

Seven years, one marriage and another son later, Aretha made another move - this time to Atlanta Records - where she returned to her gospel roots. In the first session with her new label, she produced monster hit I've Never Loved A Man (The Way I've Loved You) and her ascension to the Queen of Soul was underway.

Music domination

1967 was a productive year. Respect - the song which has been embraced by women around the globe seeking the same from men in their lives - also dropped. Chain of Fools, You Make Me Feel (Like A Natural Woman)Think (co-written by Aretha and another tune synonymous with female empowerment) and Say A Little Prayer For You were among many other hits released by the end of the following year.

A tough patch

While the early '70s saw her still flying high with her career, the same could not be said of her personal life. Her first marriage ended acrimoniously in 1969 amongst allegations of physical abuse. Aretha began drinking heavily. And then in 1979, her father was shot in a home break from which he remained in a coma until passing away in 1984. It was in the mid-to-late 70s that the hits also started to dry up. And then came Who's Zoomin' Who? in 1985 - and it's number one hit Freeway Of Love.

A star is reborn

A whole new generation of music lovers thrilled to Aretha's legendary voice throughout the mid to late '80s as she teamed with artists including George Michael, Elton John, Whitney Houston and The Eurythmics (for mega-hit Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves). And let's not forget the Blues Brothers - Aretha's cameo in the 1980 blockbuster with Dan Akryod and John Belushi had even more women singing out for some R.E.S.P.E.C.T. And in 1987 she became the first female performer to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Constantly breaking barriers

While she wasn't always top of the charts in the '90s and noughties, Aretha was still at the forefront of pop culture. She left audiences speechless at the Grammy's in 1998 when she stepped in at that same morning to perform Nessun dorma after Pavarotti fell ill. She sang rings around younger contemporaries including Mariah Carey and Celine Dion the same year on VH1s Diva's Live. She finally learnt to sight read music, received honorary degrees from Yale, Harvard and Princeton, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom - the highest honour available to civilians in 2005. And through it all, she continued to perform, write and record music.

Her death on August 16, 2018, was mourned worldwide as we remembered not just the magnificent voice of the Queen of Soul but the path she had blazed for other artists to follow. 



Watch Gogglebox Australia on Lifestyle, Wednesdays, 7.30pm

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