Remembering Aretha Franklin and Her Southern Roots
Mourning the music legend with Memphis ties.
It is with heavy hearts that we bid farewell to the Queen of Soul. Aretha Franklin died Thursday in Detroit at the age of 76. She was surrounded by family and loved ones.
There is no doubt of the incredible impact Franklin made both on the music industry and popular culture during her career that spanned over half a century and that she will leave a massive void that will be difficult to fill.
Franklin was the first female artist to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, but her powerhouse voice that was a perfect blend of gospel and blues had influenced musicians of all walks of life long before that—and will continue to do so for a long time to come. She also broke records for female artists on the Billboard charts, won 18 Grammy awards, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005.
Although she spent much of her life in the Motor City, Franklin’s roots can be traced back to the South, and back to the River City, the home of the blues.
Franklin was born on March 25, 1942, in a little 1920’s clapboard cottage that still stands at 406 Lucy Street in Memphis, Tennessee. Her father, Reverend C.L. Franklin served as pastor at the New Salem Baptist Church in midtown Memphis before the family moved away to Michigan two years after Aretha was born.
And like many Southern born musicians, Franklin’s musical origins can be tied back to the church in which she was raised. When her family moved to Michigan and her father became a pastor at New Bethel Baptist Church, he was the first to recognize her gift. He encouraged her to stand up and sing at church, of course, as she discussed with TIME. "Had he not been a minister, he could very well have been a great singer. I really didn’t want to sing, but he heard the possibilities and continued to encourage me. And thank God he did.”
Although her time in Memphis was brief, she was, as Memphis mayor Jim Strickland called her, “a daughter of Memphis.” And that is why, over recent years, there has been such a concentrated effort to save the now dilapidated home that served as her birthplace.
The house was greatly damaged by a fire, but the Commercial Appeal reported, the humble home still “retains most of its original wood and its brick foundation, according to Memphis Heritage executive director June West.”
But of course, the importance of this house is much more than the structure itself. Preserving the four walls of this home is about preserving another link in Memphis’ long line of musical historical lineage. And perhaps, this is one that is a little less known than the others who chose to stay a while longer, but no less important. Mayor Strickland spoke of this last August when the home was granted a historical landmark placard.
“Many people don’t realize that she was born here. And we need to recognize her. And celebrate her. And hold her up as another example of great Memphis music.”
The historical landmark does not mean the house will be saved. Those efforts remain ongoing.
But today, as the world remembers Aretha Franklin for her musical contributions, her powerhouse anthems, and the paths she paved for women, we too remember our connection to her, and hers to us as we offer our most sincere condolences to her family and loved ones.