Aretha Franklin, whose booming vocals and powerful personal presence made her one of the great entertainers in global history, became the first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on this day in history, Jan. 3, 1987.
“Aretha Franklin was an artist of passion, sophistication and command, whose recordings remain anthems that defined soul music,” the Rock Hall writes in its biography of the performer.
She “was only 25 when she clinched the title of Lady Soul with her unforgettably proud, sexy, candid and confident 1967 version of Otis Redding’s ‘Respect.’”
Franklin’s version of “Respect” and other hits such as “Think” captured the unique force of her voice and made her an icon of both female empowerment and the civil rights movement.
Her range as an artist was expressed in vocally tender and more personally vulnerable tunes such as “Say a Little Prayer” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.”
Franklin, also popularly known as the Queen of Soul, topped the list of the “200 Best Singers of All Time” that Rolling Stone just released on Jan. 1.
“A force of nature. A work of genius. A gift from the heavens. Aretha Franklin’s voice is all that and more, which is why she remains the unchallenged Queen, years after her final bow,” Rolling Stone said of the performer who died in 2018 of pancreatic cancer.
The publication also said, “Her singing is the most magnificent sound to emerge from America — more universal than Coltrane’s horn, bolder than Hendrix’s guitar.”
Another Rolling Stone — guitarist Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones — had the honor of inducting Franklin into the Rock Hall in 1987.
“The dictionary has been used up. There’s no superlatives left,” Richards said at the ceremony.
Franklin entered the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame after the organization was criticized for introducing male performers only in its debut class of 10 artists in 1986.
The group boasted a broad cross-section of talents from several genres — James Brown, Ray Charles, Elvis Presley and the Everly Brothers, among them. But there were no women.
The criticism has continued even in more recent times.
“People have lambasted the hall for this chauvinism for years,” Billboard wrote in 2019. “When Steve Miller was inducted in 2016, he called the Hall a ‘private boys club.’”
Aretha Franklin busted down the door of the club.
The performer was born in Memphis in 1942 to the Reverend Clarence L. Franklin and Barbara V. Siggers. Her family moved two years later to Detroit, where her father ministered at New Bethel Baptist Church to many of the Motor City’s most celebrated performers.
“Living in the church parish house on Boston Boulevard and Oakland Avenue, Aretha was exposed at an early age to such music legends as Art Tatum and Nat King Cole, when they visited her father,” the Detroit Historical Society notes.
“When she was 17, Franklin’s father decided that after five years of singing with his traveling gospel show, she was ready to pursue her singing in New York City. In 1967, the year ‘Respect’ hit the charts, Franklin was crowned ‘Queen of Soul’ by Chicago DJ Pervis Spann. From there Aretha would come to have 20 number-one R&B hits and garner more than 20 Grammy Awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994.”
Though she was raised and then also died in Detroit, Franklin never recorded for Motown Records.
She was instead represented by major labels including Columbia, Atlantic and Arista records.
Her honors extended far behind the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Franklin performed at three presidential inaugurations. She was inducted into the U.K. Music Hall of Fame in 2005, the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2012 and the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2020.
She earned a Pulitzer Prize special citation in 2019 honoring “her indelible contribution to American music and culture for more than five decades”
President George W. Bush presented Franklin with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in 2005.
“Aretha was a woman of achievement, with a deep character and a loving heart,” the president wrote in a letter of condolence to Franklin’s family upon her death in 2018.
“She made important and lasting contributions to American music, with her Gospel-inspired style and distinctive voice. Her remarkable talent helped shape our nation’s cultural and artistic heritage,” he also wrote.
“I am proud to have met Aretha, and am grateful that her music will continue to bring joy to millions for generations to come.”