Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, died Thursday after battling pancreatic cancer. Here are some facts to celebrate the iconic musician and her awe-inspiring life:
- She Acted in Only One Movie in Her Career
The Queen of Soul meets the Soul Men! Franklin played Mrs. Murphy, the wife of Blue Brother’s lead guitarist Matt “Guitar” Murphy, in 1980’s Blues Brothers. In the movie, she sang a new, longer version of her 1968 hit, “Think.”
“The Blues Brothers was something I enjoyed making tremendously,” Franklin wrote in her autobiography, Aretha Franklin: The Queen of Soul. “It was my debut in film. The only thing I really didn’t like about it was the hours. I had to get up at seven o’clock in the morning to get ready to be on the set. But once you got there, and once you started rolling, then everything fell into place. I had a lot of fun with Belushi, and Dan Aykroyd—great guys—big sense of humor, and very, very professional and astute. So I had a good time. It makes everything so much easier when you’re having fun and you’re enjoying what you’re doing.”
- She was seen as a symbol of black equality and female empowerment.
Upon her 2012 induction into the GMA Gospel Hall of Fame, Franklin was called “the voice of the civil rights movement,” “the voice of black America,” and a “symbol of black equality.”
- She Performed at the Inaugurations of Three Presidents
Franklin performed “God Bless America” at Jimmy Carter’s night-before-the-inauguration celebration at the Kennedy Center in 1977. Sixteen years later, Franklin headlined a two-hour concert during Bill Clinton’s inauguration festivities. She sang a goosebump-inducing version of “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Misérables. And in 2009, she sang “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” at Barack Obama’s inauguration. While her vocals always took center stage, her Swarovski-crystal-studded hat quickly became the subject of countless memes.
- She Taught Herself Piano without Knowing How to Read Music
Franklin’s mother was a singer and pianist, so it should come as no surprise that tickling the ivories came naturally to Franklin. “I play by ear,” she said.
- She Was the First Woman Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
In 1987, Franklin became the first female to join the ranks of Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, and Little Richard as an inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. While she was not in attendance at the ceremony, her brother accepted the award on her behalf. “This is the greatest night of them all because Aretha has been written into history,” he said.
6. She has a total of 18 Grammy Awards.
In addition to her 18 wins, 16 competitive and 2 honorary, Franklin was nominated a ~grand total~ of 44 TIMES.
- She has a street in Detroit named after her.
To honor the Queen of Soul, Franklin’s home city renamed a section of Madison Street “Aretha Franklin Way.”
- In 2005, she was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
President George W. Bush presented her with the highest civil honor, reserved only for those who’ve made significant contributions to national security, world peace, and/or culture.
9. She received honorary degrees from Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Brown, Berklee College of Music, the New England Conservatory of Music, AND the University of Michigan.
10. She was Whitney Houston’s “honorary aunt.”
Franklin was close friends and musical associates with Houston’s mother, Cissy. Houston affectionately referred to Franklin as “Auntie Ree.”