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Aretha Franklin was the kind of shooting star that sprints through the atmosphere only once in a lifetime. Born on March 25, 1942, the talented singer-songwriter honed her craft in church, and became an icon whose music will continue to inspire legions of recording artists for generations to come.
In a career of more than 60 years, the Queen of Soul sold over 75 million records, won 18 Grammys, became the first female Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, and amassed a collection of legendary hits soundtracking our lives with timeless anthems such as “Respect,” “Do Right Woman,” and “Rock Steady.”
Franklin’s death from pancreatic cancer in 2018 was a devastating loss to the music world, but her memory lives on through her work. The legendary soul singer, activist and mother, was outspoken about everything from who she wanted to play her in a biopic, to refusing to go on stage without her purse. Yet Franklin was deeply protective over her personal life, and never publicly confirmed that she was battling cancer. Her funeral played like a royal affair complete with an exclusive guest list of Franklin’s family, friends, political figures, and performances from Stevie Wonder, Jennifer Hudson, Chaka Khan, Fantasia, Ariana Grande, Faith Hill, Yolanda Adams, and more.
This year brings two new projects centered around Franklin. The first, NatGeo’s “Genius: Aretha,” premiered on March 21. Cynthia Erivo stars in the eight episode mini-series that portrays Franklin’s relationship with her preacher father, C.L. Franklin, from childhood through to adulthood; her marriage to second husband Ted White, and her introduction to music producer Jerry Wexler (Franklin’s family has denounced the project). “Genius: Aretha” is currently streaming on Hulu, along with the 2019 documentary “Amazing Grace.” If you’re not already signed up for Hulu, subscriptions start at $5.99 a month, or $59.99 a year. “Amazing Grace” is also available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime.
Later this year, will come the release of the “Respect” biopic starring Jennifer Hudson, but it remains to be seen if the film will receive a theatrical or streaming release (or both).
To mark what would have been Franklin’s 79th birthday, we rounded up a collection of vinyls, books and more merchandise that needs to be in your music library, and overall collection. This roster isn’t just for Franklin fans though, the items below act as a gift guide for anyone looking to purchase a unique item for that special someone.
See our list below.
Available in small, medium and large sizes, this custom cut poster features the iconic photo from the “Yeah!” album, originally released in 1967.
Released in 1969, the “Aretha Franklin: Gold” album compiles hits such as “Respect,” “Ain’t No Way,” and “Think.” Franklin recorded most of these tracks at Atlantic Studios in New York City. For “Do Right Woman,” and “I Never Loved a Man (The Way That I Love You), Franklin traveled to Muscle Shoals, Alabama to record at Famed Recording Studios, the historic studio where other music legends Little Richard, Otis Redding, and Etta James recorded music. Just 24 years old at the time, Franklin brought the magic touch to her 1967 recording session of “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)”. The song became Franklin’s first hit single as it cracked the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100, and topped the R&B songs chart.
Borrowing its title from the Nina Simone song, “Young Gifted and Black” became a pivotal album in Franklin’s catalog. The Grammy-winning LP was released in 1972 and includes Franklin’s cover of Simone’s song. The rendition became an anthem for ongoing civil rights activism, and became identified with the Black Power Movement. The album was a sonic departure from the heavy gospel influence on Franklin’s earlier projects, and unlocked a uniquely soulful period for the Queen of Soul. This mustard yellow vinyl features ”Day Dreaming,” “Chain Of Fools,” and other soul stirring tracks.
There’s no question that the late ‘60s solidified the start of Franklin’s superstar era. Her version of “Respect” (originally recorded by Ottis Redding) became a signature song in her catalog, and earned Franklin two Grammys in 1968. She went on to win a Grammy every year thereafter until 1972.
This 2019 documentary, directed by Sydney Pollack and Alan Elliott, presents the live recording of Franklin’s luminary gospel album “Amazing Grace.” The footage was filmed during Franklin’s stirring performance at The New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Watts, California, in 1972.
A fascinating portrait of Franklin’s life captured through photos, and spanning across six decades, the introspective photo book, by Meredith Ochs, offers a wide shot of Franklin’s story. Included among the 85 photos are insightful text exploring the icon’s numerous honors, awards, and causes, alongside her advocacy for civil rights and the arts, beginning with her formative years in Detroit and recording career from the ‘50s until her death in 2018.
For “New York Times” best-selling author Mark Bego, his biography on Franklin was 40 years in the making. Bego first wrote about Franklin back when he was a journalism student assigned to review her “Young Gifted & Black” album. Unbeknownst to Bego, he would spend decades covering her career. He first interviewed Franklin at her home in Detroit in 1985. “Aretha Franklin: The Queen of Soul” was then published in 1989, notable for being the first full biography on Franklin. The book has been updated a few times over the years since, to include more of the soul singer’s accolades, career highlights, and her passing.
As the third of over two dozen compilation albums that Franklin released over her illustrious music career, “Aretha’s Greatest Hits” was a roundup of earlier recordings such as “Baby I Love You,” and “Dr. Feel Good,” along with three song covers recorded specifically for the album: “Spanish Harlem,” “You’re All I Need to Get By,” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Atlantic Records released “Aretha’s Greatest Hits” in 1971.
Anyone looking to get swept up in the awe-inspiring sounds of Franklin’s pivotal gospel LP should listen to “Amazing Grace: The Complete Recordings.” This musical behemoth, with four vinyl records included, features all 27 unedited tracks from the original recording. The set features legendary performances of “How I Got Over,” “You’ve Got a Friend,” and her charting rendition of “Wholy Holy.” Franklin’s 1972 release became one of the most successful gospel albums in history, selling over two million copies.
“I’m the lady next door when I’m not on stage,” Franklin once said. This sprawling book, by photojournalist Linda Soloman, includes a forward penned by Burt Bacharach. Solomon, a fellow Detroit native, first met Franklin as a columnist for the “Detroit News” in 1983. The two forged a friendship, and Soloman became a personal photographer for Franklin. “The Queen Next Door,” showcases the down-to-earth side of the larger-than-life figure and her deep love of family.