The Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin sadly passed away on 16th August 2018, leaving behind a legacy very few artists alive today can rival. With a career spanning across six decades, 75 million records sold, 18 Grammy wins (the most for a solo female artist’s works), 20 No.1 singles on the U.S. R&B charts (tied with Stevie Wonder for first place), and named by Rolling Stone magazine as “The Greatest Singer of All Time”, Aretha Franklin achieved more than she or many others could ever have dreamed of. She is also responsible for influencing pretty much every singer from a wide range of different genres that has been on the music scene since the 60’s and introducing gospel-infused soul vocals and melisma into mainstream music.
But beyond that, Aretha Franklin was considered by many from within the LGBT community an ally of ours. Despite coming from a strict Baptist background, where homosexuality is traditionally frowned upon, Aretha and her family seemed to be more openminded. Throughout her illustrious career she may not have spoken out directly in support of LGBT people or rights but her status as a diva has earned her a spot among some of the greats we call gay icons. Here are just 5 things, for starters, that she did:
1) She had a lesbian sister whom she spoke in support of
Carolyn Franklin, one of her younger sisters, was openly gay. Carolyn wrote some songs for Aretha, including “Ain’t No Way”, and sometimes sang backup for her. About Carolyn, Aretha said “I consider her a great woman… She went her own way, lived her own life, and found freedom and her individuality. She had no shame about her sexual preference and spoke the unvarnished truth.” A strong statement to make considering their religious upbringing.
2) She has several recordings embraced by the gay community
As with every diva, a number of their songs always stick with the gay community, whether it be because the songs are about us, are relatable in terms of love and heartbreak, or about self-empowerment. But very few songs from before the 80’s or soul divas are heard much these days. Except a handful of Aretha Franklin’s. “Respect”, “Think”, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”, and her version of “A Deeper Love” – which spoke about pride and was featured on the Sister Act 2 soundtrack – are just some that all resonate with us today on a level beyond their simply iconic status within musical history.
3) She collaborated with two of the most famous gay singers
Right around the aftermath of their initial coming outs in the late 70’s and early 80’s, George Michael and Elton John – now considered two of the most famous openly gay singers of all time and musical legends in their own right – both recorded songs with Aretha Franklin. George’s duet with the queen was first in 1987 and “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” was a big international hit for both of them. “Through the Storm” with Elton followed in 1989 and was a Top 20 hit in the U.S. In the early 80’s, Aretha also worked with Luther Vandross – although not openly gay and not “outed” until after his death – when he wrote and produced two albums for her. Additionally, she performed or collaborated with a number of other “gay icons/allies” which excited fans, including Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Shania Twain and Annie Lennox, with the latter collaboration featuring on our list of top anthems for women and female empowerment.
4) She performed at one of America’s first gay weddings
In 2011, Aretha serenaded newlywed couple Bill White and Bryan Eure in New York, solidifying her support for LGBT rights. Also, her last live performance before her death was at one of Elton John’s AIDS Foundation benefits in 2017. Others have also linked her activism in helping to pioneer the Black rights movement through her music to the LGBT movement, both of which gained traction around the same time; two marginalised and discriminated minority groups sharing one queen and her legacy in their quest to be heard.
5) Her influence on LGBT people was huge
One of George Michael’s goals was to perform with her (one of his favourite singers), which he achieved as mentioned above. Other LGBT singers, songwriters and musicians since then have also spoken of the inspiration Aretha Franklin gave them through her vocal style and music or paid tribute to her upon the news of her death, including Sam Smith, Lady Gaga, Janelle Monae, Melissa Etheridge, K.d. lang, Tegan and Sara, Linda Perry, Todrick Hall, Queen Latifah, Adam Lambert, MNEK, Will Young and RuPaul. Even other drag queens have talked about their love for the Queen of Soul, considering her to be one of the first and oldest divas they have lip synced to or imitated on stage.
What is your fondest memory or favourite song of Aretha’s? Let us know in the comments section below or on our social media pages!