Ain’t I A Mother, Too?

Ain’t I A Mother, Too?

Black womanhood as of late has received a much-needed and long-overdue boost. Increased conversations and initiatives among black and mainstream media alike have moved the needle on the gauge of black women’s images toward change and positivity. Now it’s time to expand the dialogue to include black motherhood.



Courtesy of The Brown Mama


Defying black motherhood stereotyping is not just so that we can look better on television and in films. Our living above others’ ignorance will break down the walls dividing all black mothers, release us from the mental and emotional strain of constantly defending ourselves, and empower us to bring large-scale change to this country—all for the health, safety, and success of our precious and beautiful children.

It stands to reason that the public image of black mothers is an extension of the opinions held about black women. The Jezebel stereotype of black women being sexually promiscuous yields the stereotype of all black moms being hyper-fertile baby-making machines. The reality is that we have a proportionate share of women who struggle with infertility. Similarly, the prevailing misconception that black women are angry, masculine, and sharp-tongued translates to an image of black mothers being emotionally distant and stoic, harsh disciplinarians, and understandably unmarried or without committed relationships. And just as the perceptions of black women are complicated, so they are also of black motherhood. Kimberly Seals Allers, founder of the mom and parenting site for women of color, MochaManual.com, and national black breastfeeding advocate, accurately describes the true paradox of the black maternal role: “…[B]lack women are somehow viewed as perfectly capable and desirable for taking care of other people’s children, but yet viewed as incapable of taking care of our own.” Mammy, not mommy, seems to be others’ preferred label for us.

Much of the stereotyping of black motherhood stems from the prevalence of single mothers in our community. Public discourse often reveals that black motherhood is assumed to be single motherhood and thus any pathology thought to be associated with single moms is automatically transferred to moms generally. “…[N]on-blacks don’t know who we are. So they think women like Michelle Obama—educated, married, devoted mother—are anomalies, instead of understanding that there are scores of black mothers who are this norm and a relative minority who have been amplified into the stereotype”, says Seals Allers. This type of over-generalization has caused internal divisions to arise within the black community itself. Married moms don’t want to be collapsed into the stereotype, and single mothers are tired of having all the ills of the black community laid at their feet. Even the black church feeds into the negativity projected onto black motherhood. Undoubtedly, it is right for the church to speak truth about non-marital childbearing, but in the case of our single moms, the traditional adage, ‘Love the sinner, hate the sin’ doesn’t seem to apply, as illustrated by Pastor Marvin Winans’ refusal to bless the child of a single mother in the church’s dedication ceremony. Charity Grace could bring her child for a private blessing ceremony but was informed that Winans “does not bless children of unmarried mothers in front of his congregation.” Considering Winans’ own challenge of having to address allegations of infidelity and fathering a son out of wedlock, the irony of his pronouncement was not lost on many, including Stacia Brown, founder of Beyond Baby Mamas, a blog and initiative that provides a space for conversations among single mothers of color. Ms. Brown understands the stigma surrounding black motherhood, especially single mothers, and offers this insight:

A woman’s circumstances around single motherhood rarely [matter]. …I think the conversation about single mothers in the church should start there. Do we know who we’re stigmatizing? Do we know her story? Shouldn’t we extend grace regardless?

Indeed, a powerful starting point for changing public perceptions and stereotypes of black motherhood is an honest look at our own minds and hearts. How can we credibly critique others’ mishandling of us if we mishandle, judge, and excoriate ourselves? Do we believe our mothers are lazy, neglectful, and inept? Some of us might be, but aren’t we allowed diversity within our ranks, just like any other demographic group? We won’t all be Claire Huxtable; some of us will be Mary Lee Johnston. Showing ourselves grace, kindness, and compassion is an important self-care tactic in an overall resistance strategy. Another prong of our strategy should be to actively rebut the misrecognitions where, how, and to the extent we can. Brown makes a good point when she says, “Taking on all critics can be exhausting and it makes for a relentlessly defensive life. My personal approach, outside of my Beyond Baby Mamas efforts, is to be the absolute best mother I can be. Providing your child with a great family life won’t completely silence critics, but it’s the best counter-argument we can make.” Seals Allers echoes a similar sentiment when she suggests that we are experiencing image management fatigue and just want to focus on being the best mothers we can for our children. Personal excellence is a workable strategy to relieve the internal stress, and this is important because chronic stress seriously impacts our mental and emotional health, thereby affecting all of our relationships. But allowing so much wrong information and degrading imagery about our lives to persist is also damaging and hinders our needed involvement in critical cultural conversations and policy development.

If in fact, black moms are tired of waging the everyday battles we face and wondering if we can make any difference, we have contemporary examples of powerful advocacy being done on a national and international level by moms of color to inspire us. On the international stage, Leymah Gbowee, 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner and co-founder and leader of Liberian Mass Action for Peace, led a resistance movement that ended the 14-year Liberian civil war. In her provocative memoir, Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation At War, she clearly connects her groups’ effectiveness, motivation, and source of influence to their status as mothers. Speaking to then Liberian president Charles Taylor during a pivotal negotiation summit she said, ““…[T]he women of Liberia…, we are tired of war. We are tired of running. We are tired of begging for [food]. We are tired of our children being raped. We are now taking this stand, to secure the future of our children. Because we believe, as custodians of society, tomorrow our children will ask us, ‘Mama, what was your role during the crisis?’”

Stateside, grief and devastation over repeated and unrequited injustice against our children was on national display when Trayvon Martin was murdered and when his killer was subsequently acquitted of his murder. Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton provided a stereotype-shattering display of grace, poise, and resolve as she lamented his death and is now advocating for common sense gun reform and the repeal of Stand Your Ground laws. She reminded black mothers everywhere that we don’t have to limit ourselves to the common black mom stereotype of private, but impotent grief—cathartic for the griever, but lacking transformative power. Ms. Fulton demonstrated that we can transition our grief to public influence and power. Other noteworthy models of effective black mom-based activism include: Mocha Moms, Inc.’s Occupy Schools™ education initiative, led by Kuae Mattox; Kimberly Seals Allers’ innovative Black Breastfeeding 360 campaign to educate and raise awareness about the benefits of breastfeeding among moms of color; Tonya Lewis Lee’s spokesperson role for the Office of Minority Health’s Healthy Baby campaign to reduce black infant mortality; and 1000 Mothers to Prevent Violence, a non-profit created by Lorrain Franklin-Taylor, who lost her 22-year-old twin sons, Albade and Obadiah Taylor, to gun violence.  And there are other potential issues for high-impact policy and cultural involvement of black mothers, including disabilities, sexuality and sex education programming and funding, mental health, childcare, criminal justice reform, and employment issues like a living wage and maternal leave policies.

Black motherhood needs to be humanized and re-conceptualized. We are more than grief and shame and hardship. We are also joyous and communal and emotionally available and wise and intellectual. It benefits us and our society to lean in to the full spectrum of our mothering.

Happy Mother’s Day! Enjoy 10 Podcast Shorts on Mothers and Motherhood

Happy Mother’s Day! Enjoy 10 Podcast Shorts on Mothers and Motherhood

Every mom’s journey to and through motherhood is a little different. That’s the beautiful thing about motherhood — there’s no perfect way to do it, yet most moms find their way to doing the best that they can with God’s help. So, today we’re celebrating each unique motherly experience with a compilation of 10 two-minute podcast shorts by Dr. Melvin E. Banks, founder of UMI. We’ve pulled them from Dr. Banks’ daily radio program called Daily Direction, which covers a variety of issues and topics.  Listen in and remember all of what you love (or loved) about your mom.


More on Motherhood


John Perkins: On race and the church, authentic friendship, considering heaven

John Perkins: On race and the church, authentic friendship, considering heaven

John Perkins, left, speaks at the Mosaix conference on Nov. 7, 2019, in Keller, Texas. Mark DeMyaz, president of Mosaix Global Network, stands behind Perkins on stage. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Editor’s Note: The speaker uses a racial epithet in his first answer.

KELLER, Texas (RNS) — When longtime reconciliation advocate John Perkins took the stage at a conference of multiethnic church leaders, they gave him a standing ovation and kept standing as he counseled them.

“You will find me in the so-called white church; you will find me in the so-called black church. But I’m there to be redemptive,” he told them. “It’s intentional, being a reconciler.”

At almost 90, Perkins, a civil rights activist, advocate for the poor, and worker for inclusivity in evangelical churches, told hundreds of people attending the Mosaix conference in early November that he’s “almost finished” with his work but there is more ahead for them.

“I want to be encouraging to this generation: This generation, don’t give up, don’t give up,” he urged. “Let’s love one another.”

In an interview the day before his brief address to the conference, Perkins said he’s planning the final book in a trilogy that will be the “centerpieces of my theology.” The first, “One Blood: Parting Words to the Church on Race and Love,” has been followed by the second, “He Calls Me Friend: The Healing Power of Friendship in a Lonely World.”

He talked to Religion News Service about the importance of friendship, overcoming hate with love and his hopes about heaven.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You are a veteran in the realm of race relations in church and society. What concerns you most about the current state of those relations?

Integration and racial reconciliation is that space between when the first black moves in and the last white moves out. Now the whites are moving back and the blacks say, “We don’t want you in here with us and we want to stay like we were. Y’all taking our land.” We haven’t decided about getting together and loving each other. The church hasn’t made that decision.I don’t think we’re developing authentic friendship. Our discipleship is not going there. I think our racial reconciliation continues to antagonize each other. I don’t meet many white folk who want to be a racist and we’re calling them a racist. I don’t think that’s affirming their dignity. I don’t think that’s receiving ’em. I don’t meet many black folk who want to be called a n—– again. That’s not affirming our dignity. So we haven’t found a language of accepting each other. We don’t have the language for the conversation. Even if we have the conversation, our language itself is already bad.

In speaking to people attending Mosaix, a multiethnic church conference filled with people who are from the generations that follow yours, what advice do you have for clergy seeking to create or maintain churches that are inclusive of a variety of ethnic and racial groups?

We’re trying to be a prototype. We’re trying to find the model that can reflect that dignity within humanity. We don’t quite have it, and if we have it, we haven’t found the peace that surpasses all understanding. We haven’t found that peace. We’ve still got too much hate in there. Hate is still winning and hate is of the devil and love is of God. So we got to find that language of love. We’re trying to be intentional. We want that to happen. We ain’t there.

Your mother died in poverty when you were still an infant —

When I was 7 months old —

— your brother was killed by a police officer, and you were jailed and beaten as you fought for civil rights. How did you move from what could have been a life of anger and hate to one that has focused so much on faith and love?

I didn’t find that liberation until I came to know Jesus Christ, until I realized that Christ had died for me and that God loved the little children, all the children of the world — red, brown and yellow, black and white — they’re all precious in his sight. I knew that before I was beaten in a jail but when I was beaten in the jail, I think something happened out of that beating that gave me determination to do this. I think after coming out of that jail, I found authentic love from blacks. I found authentic love from whites. I think blacks thought I wasn’t just a do-gooder, a token black, that I wanted to live for them. I think white folk came and washed my wounds. I think real reconciliation is washing each other’s wounds.

In your new book, “He Calls Me friend,” you say that friendship can help people overcome what you call “the sin sickness of ethnic hatred and prejudice.” Can you briefly explain what you mean by that?

I mean that friendship is the outliving of the good Samaritan story that said, you can get into the kingdom if you can be like that good Samaritan. That’s an oxymoron. That’s a complete change of behavior. Those Jews — and they were the religious Jews — they left that Jew there. This mixed-bred guy, this guy who saw beyond racism and color, he saw there was a human being and he affirmed, he invested in him and he invested in his future and he said, I’ll invest some more if I come back. He became a friend, and Jesus said, go and do likewise.

He called us to be friends. I’m changing my name. I’m telling you all to call me friend. My name is friend.

You and your wife of almost 70 years founded what is now called the John and Vera Mae Perkins Foundation in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1983. What was the goal?

The goal was to create (Christian Community Development Association) and to plant within it the biblical mandate. I would come every time we would meet in the morning and anchor people in the Word of God. This is our guidebook. This is our blueprint. And where I would take them would be into the incarnation, looking at the first purpose for which God came: They shall call his name Jesus for he shall save his people from their sin. They got a housing problem but they need to be saved too. Do you wait ’til they get saved to do that? No. If they’re poor, if they’re hungry, feed ’em. If they’re naked, clothe them. If they don’t have shelter, bring them to your house. You don’t wait until they’re saved to do that. Doing that might show somebody else our good work and (they may) say I want to be a part of that group.

You are turning 90 next year. It doesn’t appear, though, that you’ve really retired. What are your goals at this stage?

To finish my manifesto and I want to write one more book. I want to put these three together: “One Blood,” “He Called Me Friend” and the thought is why did James say count it all joy when you fall into suffering? I want to learn a little bit more about the vicariousness of suffering and the value of suffering, so I can get ready and get the people ready to die, to welcome his return, but also welcome death if it’s for a noble cause.

You mentioned in your new book that you yearn for heaven. How does that desire relate to your concept of friendship?

I think if we’re going to join our friends forever, we will never be separated again. I had a little theological trouble with it because (Jesus) said somebody in heaven, he won’t be married or given in marriage because I wanted to be in heaven, around the throne, I want to have Vera Mae’s hand.

So how do you deal with that?

Heaven will be so much greater.

John Perkins: On race and the church, authentic friendship, considering heaven

John Perkins: On race and the church, authentic friendship, considering heaven

John Perkins, left, speaks at the Mosaix conference on Nov. 7, 2019, in Keller, Texas. Mark DeMyaz, president of Mosaix Global Network, stands behind Perkins on stage. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Editor’s Note: The speaker uses a racial epithet in his first answer.

KELLER, Texas (RNS) — When longtime reconciliation advocate John Perkins took the stage at a conference of multiethnic church leaders, they gave him a standing ovation and kept standing as he counseled them.

“You will find me in the so-called white church; you will find me in the so-called black church. But I’m there to be redemptive,” he told them. “It’s intentional, being a reconciler.”

At almost 90, Perkins, a civil rights activist, advocate for the poor, and worker for inclusivity in evangelical churches, told hundreds of people attending the Mosaix conference in early November that he’s “almost finished” with his work but there is more ahead for them.

“I want to be encouraging to this generation: This generation, don’t give up, don’t give up,” he urged. “Let’s love one another.”

In an interview the day before his brief address to the conference, Perkins said he’s planning the final book in a trilogy that will be the “centerpieces of my theology.” The first, “One Blood: Parting Words to the Church on Race and Love,” has been followed by the second, “He Calls Me Friend: The Healing Power of Friendship in a Lonely World.”

He talked to Religion News Service about the importance of friendship, overcoming hate with love and his hopes about heaven.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You are a veteran in the realm of race relations in church and society. What concerns you most about the current state of those relations?

Integration and racial reconciliation is that space between when the first black moves in and the last white moves out. Now the whites are moving back and the blacks say, “We don’t want you in here with us and we want to stay like we were. Y’all taking our land.” We haven’t decided about getting together and loving each other. The church hasn’t made that decision.I don’t think we’re developing authentic friendship. Our discipleship is not going there. I think our racial reconciliation continues to antagonize each other. I don’t meet many white folk who want to be a racist and we’re calling them a racist. I don’t think that’s affirming their dignity. I don’t think that’s receiving ’em. I don’t meet many black folk who want to be called a n—– again. That’s not affirming our dignity. So we haven’t found a language of accepting each other. We don’t have the language for the conversation. Even if we have the conversation, our language itself is already bad.

In speaking to people attending Mosaix, a multiethnic church conference filled with people who are from the generations that follow yours, what advice do you have for clergy seeking to create or maintain churches that are inclusive of a variety of ethnic and racial groups?

We’re trying to be a prototype. We’re trying to find the model that can reflect that dignity within humanity. We don’t quite have it, and if we have it, we haven’t found the peace that surpasses all understanding. We haven’t found that peace. We’ve still got too much hate in there. Hate is still winning and hate is of the devil and love is of God. So we got to find that language of love. We’re trying to be intentional. We want that to happen. We ain’t there.

Your mother died in poverty when you were still an infant —

When I was 7 months old —

— your brother was killed by a police officer, and you were jailed and beaten as you fought for civil rights. How did you move from what could have been a life of anger and hate to one that has focused so much on faith and love?

I didn’t find that liberation until I came to know Jesus Christ, until I realized that Christ had died for me and that God loved the little children, all the children of the world — red, brown and yellow, black and white — they’re all precious in his sight. I knew that before I was beaten in a jail but when I was beaten in the jail, I think something happened out of that beating that gave me determination to do this. I think after coming out of that jail, I found authentic love from blacks. I found authentic love from whites. I think blacks thought I wasn’t just a do-gooder, a token black, that I wanted to live for them. I think white folk came and washed my wounds. I think real reconciliation is washing each other’s wounds.

In your new book, “He Calls Me friend,” you say that friendship can help people overcome what you call “the sin sickness of ethnic hatred and prejudice.” Can you briefly explain what you mean by that?

I mean that friendship is the outliving of the good Samaritan story that said, you can get into the kingdom if you can be like that good Samaritan. That’s an oxymoron. That’s a complete change of behavior. Those Jews — and they were the religious Jews — they left that Jew there. This mixed-bred guy, this guy who saw beyond racism and color, he saw there was a human being and he affirmed, he invested in him and he invested in his future and he said, I’ll invest some more if I come back. He became a friend, and Jesus said, go and do likewise.

He called us to be friends. I’m changing my name. I’m telling you all to call me friend. My name is friend.

You and your wife of almost 70 years founded what is now called the John and Vera Mae Perkins Foundation in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1983. What was the goal?

The goal was to create (Christian Community Development Association) and to plant within it the biblical mandate. I would come every time we would meet in the morning and anchor people in the Word of God. This is our guidebook. This is our blueprint. And where I would take them would be into the incarnation, looking at the first purpose for which God came: They shall call his name Jesus for he shall save his people from their sin. They got a housing problem but they need to be saved too. Do you wait ’til they get saved to do that? No. If they’re poor, if they’re hungry, feed ’em. If they’re naked, clothe them. If they don’t have shelter, bring them to your house. You don’t wait until they’re saved to do that. Doing that might show somebody else our good work and (they may) say I want to be a part of that group.

You are turning 90 next year. It doesn’t appear, though, that you’ve really retired. What are your goals at this stage?

To finish my manifesto and I want to write one more book. I want to put these three together: “One Blood,” “He Called Me Friend” and the thought is why did James say count it all joy when you fall into suffering? I want to learn a little bit more about the vicariousness of suffering and the value of suffering, so I can get ready and get the people ready to die, to welcome his return, but also welcome death if it’s for a noble cause.

You mentioned in your new book that you yearn for heaven. How does that desire relate to your concept of friendship?

I think if we’re going to join our friends forever, we will never be separated again. I had a little theological trouble with it because (Jesus) said somebody in heaven, he won’t be married or given in marriage because I wanted to be in heaven, around the throne, I want to have Vera Mae’s hand.

So how do you deal with that?

Heaven will be so much greater.

A Tribute to the Life and Legacy of the ‘Queen of Soul’

A Tribute to the Life and Legacy of the ‘Queen of Soul’

Courtesy of Time magazine


Aretha Franklin, the undisputed “Queen of Soul” who sang with matchless style on such classics as “Think,” ”I Say a Little Prayer” and her signature song, “Respect,” and stood as a cultural icon around the globe, has died at age 76 from pancreatic cancer.

Publicist Gwendolyn Quinn tells The Associated Press through a family statement that Franklin died Thursday at 9:50 a.m. at her home in Detroit. The statement said “Franklin’s official cause of death was due to advanced pancreatic cancer of the neuroendocrine type, which was confirmed by Franklin’s oncologist, Dr. Philip Phillips of Karmanos Cancer Institute” in Detroit.

The family added: “In one of the darkest moments of our lives, we are not able to find the appropriate words to express the pain in our heart. We have lost the matriarch and rock of our family. The love she had for her children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and cousins knew no bounds.”

The statement continued:

“We have been deeply touched by the incredible outpouring of love and support we have received from close friends, supporters and fans all around the world. Thank you for your compassion and prayers. We have felt your love for Aretha and it brings us comfort to know that her legacy will live on. As we grieve, we ask that you respect our privacy during this difficult time.”

Aretha Franklin performing live at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, New York on March 21, 2008. © Atlas / MediaPunch /IPX

Funeral arrangements will be announced in the coming days.

Franklin, who had battled undisclosed health issues in recent years, had in 2017 announced her retirement from touring.

A professional singer and accomplished pianist by her late teens, a superstar by her mid-20s, Franklin had long ago settled any arguments over who was the greatest popular vocalist of her time. Her gifts, natural and acquired, were a multi-octave mezzo-soprano, gospel passion and training worthy of a preacher’s daughter, taste sophisticated and eccentric, and the courage to channel private pain into liberating song.

She recorded hundreds of tracks and had dozens of hits over the span of a half century, including 20 that reached No. 1 on the R&B charts. But her reputation was defined by an extraordinary run of top 10 smashes in the late 1960s, from the morning-after bliss of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” to the wised-up “Chain of Fools” to her unstoppable call for “Respect.”

Her records sold millions of copies and the music industry couldn’t honor her enough. Franklin won 18 Grammy awards. In 1987, she became the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Clive Davis, the music mogul who brought her to Arista Records and helped revive her career in the 1980s, said he was “devastated” by her death.

“She was truly one of a kind. She was more than the Queen of Soul. She was a national treasure to be cherished by every generation throughout the world,” he said in a statement. “Apart from our long professional relationship, Aretha was my friend. Her loss is deeply profound and my heart is full of sadness.”

Fellow singers bowed to her eminence and political and civic leaders treated her as a peer. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was a longtime friend, and she sang at the dedication of King’s memorial, in 2011. She performed at the inaugurations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, and at the funeral for civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks. Clinton gave Franklin the National Medal of Arts. President George W. Bush awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in 2005.

Washington, DC – January 20, 2009 — Aretha Franklin performs at the the 56th Presidential Inauguration ceremony for Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States in Washington, DC. Credit: Pat Benic – Pool via CNP /MediaPunch /IPX

Franklin’s best-known appearance with a president was in January 2009, when she sang “My Country ’tis of Thee” at Barack Obama’s inauguration. She wore a gray felt hat with a huge, Swarovski rhinestone-bordered bow that became an Internet sensation and even had its own website. In 2015, she brought Obama and others to tears with a triumphant performance of “Natural Woman” at a Kennedy Center tribute to the song’s co-writer, Carole King.

Franklin endured the exhausting grind of celebrity and personal troubles dating back to childhood. She was married from 1961 to 1969 to her manager, Ted White, and their battles are widely believed to have inspired her performances on several songs, including “(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone,” ”Think” and her heartbreaking ballad of despair, “Ain’t No Way.” The mother of two sons by age 16 (she later had two more), she was often in turmoil as she struggled with her weight, family problems and financial predicaments. Her best known producer, Jerry Wexler, nicknamed her “Our Lady of Mysterious Sorrows.”

Franklin married actor Glynn Turman in 1978 in Los Angeles but returned to her hometown of Detroit the following year after her father was shot by burglars and left semi-comatose until his death in 1984. She and Turman divorced that year.

Despite growing up in Detroit, and having Smokey Robinson as a childhood friend, Franklin never recorded for Motown Records; stints with Columbia and Arista were sandwiched around her prime years with Atlantic Records. But it was at Detroit’s New Bethel Baptist Church, where her father was pastor, that Franklin learned the gospel fundamentals that would make her a soul institution.

Aretha Louise Franklin was born March 25, 1942, in Memphis, Tennessee. The Rev. C.L. Franklin soon moved his family to Buffalo, New York, then to Detroit, where the Franklins settled after the marriage of Aretha’s parents collapsed and her mother (and reputed sound-alike) Barbara returned to Buffalo.

C.L. Franklin was among the most prominent Baptist ministers of his time. He recorded dozens of albums of sermons and music and knew such gospel stars as Marion Williams and Clara Ward, who mentored Aretha and her sisters Carolyn and Erma. (Both sisters sang on Aretha’s records, and Carolyn also wrote “Ain’t No Way” and other songs for Aretha). Music was the family business and performers from Sam Cooke to Lou Rawls were guests at the Franklin house. In the living room, the shy young Aretha awed friends with her playing on the grand piano.

Franklin occasionally performed at New Bethel Baptist throughout her career; her 1987 gospel album “One Lord One Faith One Baptism” was recorded live at the church.

Her most acclaimed gospel recording came in 1972 with the Grammy-winning album “Amazing Grace,” which was recorded live at New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in South Central Los Angeles and featured gospel legend James Cleveland, along with her own father (Mick Jagger was one of the celebrities in the audience). It became one of of the best-selling gospel albums ever.

The piano she began learning at age 8 became a jazzy component of much of her work, including arranging as well as songwriting. “If I’m writing and I’m producing and singing, too, you get more of me that way, rather than having four or five different people working on one song,” Franklin told The Detroit News in 2003.

Franklin was in her early teens when she began touring with her father, and she released a gospel album in 1956 through J-V-B Records. Four years later, she signed with Columbia Records producer John Hammond, who called Franklin the most exciting singer he had heard since a vocalist he promoted decades earlier, Billie Holiday. Franklin knew Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. and considered joining his label, but decided it was just a local company at the time.



Courtesy of Hans vd Linden


Franklin recorded several albums for Columbia Records over the next six years. She had a handful of minor hits, including “Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody” and “Runnin’ Out of Fools,” but never quite caught on as the label tried to fit into her a variety of styles, from jazz and show songs to such pop numbers as “Mockingbird.” Franklin jumped to Atlantic Records when her contract ran out, in 1966.

“But the years at Columbia also taught her several important things,” critic Russell Gersten later wrote. “She worked hard at controlling and modulating her phrasing, giving her a discipline that most other soul singers lacked. She also developed a versatility with mainstream music that gave her later albums a breadth that was lacking on Motown LPs from the same period.

“Most important, she learned what she didn’t like: to do what she was told to do.”

At Atlantic, Wexler teamed her with veteran R&B musicians from Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, and the result was a tougher, soulful sound, with call-and-response vocals and Franklin’s gospel-style piano, which anchored “I Say a Little Prayer,” ”Natural Woman” and others.

Of Franklin’s dozens of hits, none was linked more firmly to her than the funky, horn-led march “Respect” and its spelled out demand for “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.”

Writing in Rolling Stone magazine in 2004, Wexler said: “It was an appeal for dignity combined with a blatant lubricity. There are songs that are a call to action. There are love songs. There are sex songs. But it’s hard to think of another song where all those elements are combined.”

Franklin had decided she wanted to “embellish” the R&B song written by Otis Redding, whose version had been a modest hit in 1965, Wexler said.

“When she walked into the studio, it was already worked out in her head,” the producer wrote. “Otis came up to my office right before ‘Respect’ was released, and I played him the tape. He said, ‘She done took my song.’ He said it benignly and ruefully. He knew the identity of the song was slipping away from him to her.”

In a 2004 interview with the St. Petersburg (Florida) Times, Franklin was asked whether she sensed in the ’60s that she was helping change popular music.

The American blues and soul singer Aretha Franklin during recordings for a TV show in a Cologne studio, pictured on 13th May 1968.

“Somewhat, certainly with ‘Respect,’ that was a battle cry for freedom and many people of many ethnicities took pride in that word,” she answered. “It was meaningful to all of us.”

In 1968, Franklin was pictured on the cover of Time magazine and had more than 10 Top 20 hits in 1967 and 1968. At a time of rebellion and division, Franklin’s records were a musical union of the church and the secular, man and woman, black and white, North and South, East and West. They were produced and engineered by New Yorkers Wexler and Tom Dowd, arranged by Turkish-born Arif Mardin and backed by an interracial assembly of top session musicians based mostly in Alabama.

Her popularity faded during the 1970s despite such hits as the funky “Rock Steady” and such acclaimed albums as the intimate “Spirit in the Dark.” But her career was revived in 1980 with a cameo appearance in the smash movie “The Blues Brothers” and her switch to Arista Records. Franklin collaborated with such pop and soul artists as Luther Vandross, Elton John, Whitney Houston and George Michael, with whom she recorded a No. 1 single, “I Knew You Were Waiting (for Me).” Her 1985 album “Who’s Zoomin’ Who” received some of her best reviews and included such hits as the title track and “Freeway of Love.”

Critics consistently praised Franklin’s singing but sometimes questioned her material; she covered songs by Stephen Sondheim, Bread, the Doobie Brothers. For Aretha, anything she performed was “soul.”

From her earliest recording sessions at Columbia, when she asked to sing “Over the Rainbow,” she defied category. The 1998 Grammys gave her a chance to demonstrate her range. Franklin performed “Respect,” then, with only a few minutes’ notice, filled in for an ailing Luciano Pavarotti and drew rave reviews for her rendition of “Nessun Dorma,” a stirring aria for tenors from Puccini’s “Turandot.”

“I’m sure many people were surprised, but I’m not there to prove anything,” Franklin told The Associated Press. “Not necessary.”

Fame never eclipsed Franklin’s charitable works, or her loyalty to Detroit.

Franklin sang the national anthem at Super Bowl in her hometown in 2006, after grousing that Detroit’s rich musical legacy was being snubbed when the Rolling Stones were chosen as halftime performers.

“I didn’t think there was enough (Detroit representation) by any means,” she said. “And it was my feeling, ‘How dare you come to Detroit, a city of legends — musical legends, plural — and not ask one or two of them to participate?’ That’s not the way it should be.”

Franklin did most of her extensive touring by bus after Redding’s death in a 1967 plane crash, and a rough flight to Detroit in 1982 left her with a fear of flying that anti-anxiety tapes and classes couldn’t help. She told Time in 1998 that the custom bus was a comfortable alternative: “You can pull over, go to Red Lobster. You can’t pull over at 35,000 feet.”

She only released a few albums over the past two decades, including “A Rose is Still a Rose,” which featured songs by Sean “Diddy” Combs, Lauryn Hill and other contemporary artists, and “So Damn Happy,” for which Franklin wrote the gratified title ballad. Franklin’s autobiography, “Aretha: From These Roots,” came out in 1999, when she was in her 50s. But she always made it clear that her story would continue.

“Music is my thing, it’s who I am. I’m in it for the long run,” she told The Associated Press in 2008. “I’ll be around, singing, ‘What you want, baby I got it.’ Having fun all the way.”

HOLLYWOOD, FL – MARCH 16 : Aretha Franklin performs at Hard Rock live held at the Seminole Hard Rock hotel and casino on March 16, 2010 in Hollywood Florida Credit: MPI04 / MediaPunch /IPX