Aretha Franklin: Icon For Female Empowerment And Civil Rights

She leaves the world with a legacy as powerful and distinctive as her voice.

She truly influenced a generation.

A teenage gospel singer who rose to fame to prove what an African-American women could do in America in the 1960s. When news broke that Aretha Franklin died on Thursday, there was an outpouring of grief and tributes, especially from her family.

They described Franklin as the "matriarch and rock" of their family and spoke of her love for her children, grandchildren, nieces nephews and cousins.

"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," a statement from the family read.

READ MORE: The Queen Of Soul Aretha Franklin Has Died, Aged 76

Aretha Franklin influenced a generation. Image: Getty Images.
Early Life

Early in her life, Franklin was known for her powerful voice and distinctive sound. Aretha Louise Franklin was born in Memphis Tennessee on March 25 1942 and her family moved to Detroit when she was just six-years-old.

She used to sing at the New Bethel Baptist Church where her father was a reverend. When she was just 14 she made her first recording -- an album called Songs of Faith.

At 16, Franklin toured with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and sung at his funeral  in 1968. By the time she was 18 she was scouted by the Colombia record label, with whom she signed in 1960.

Franklin performing in 1960. Image: Getty Images.

She entered the R&B charts with "Today I Sing The Blues". She also recorded  "Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody" with Colombia but after they  insisted she record a group-style pop song, she moved to Atlantic Records in 1966.

Breakthrough Years

The first recording  with her new label "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)" proved to be a breakthrough hit going number one in the rhythm and blues charts and number nine in the pop charts. Her second release with Atlantic would become her best known song -- a rendition of "Respect" which hit number one in the U.S charts and number 10 in the UK.

In 1967, she had three more U.S. top hits including the Carole King/Gerry Goffin single "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman".

READ MORE: Celebrities Pay Tribute To Aretha Franklin

READ MORE: Aretha Franklin's Final Public Performance

During this success her seven-year marriage to her manager Ted White began to break down. Rumours also circulated that she has begun drinking heavily  and in 1969 she was arrested for disorderly conduct. At around the same time her father hosted a conference for a black separatist group that resulted in an altercation with police. One police officer died in the incident and a number of others were injured.

Franklin performers on 'The Johnathan Winters Show' in 1968. Image: Getty Images.

Regardless of this personal difficultly, she released hits including "Don't Play That Song", "Call Me", "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and "Spanish Harlem".

Later Career

Her last album with Atlantic Diva was released in 1978 as an attempt to cash in on the growing disco craze, however it was a commercial flop.

But, her appearance in the 1980 film The Blues Brothers gave her career the boost it desperately needed and she returned to the charts with her album Jump To It.

Her next album Who's Zoomin' Who?, was a mixture of pop, rock and dance, and it became Franklin's first ever platinum-certified album. It was released in 1985 and it contained the hits "Freeway of Love", the title track "Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves" and a Top 20 duet with the Eurythmics.

Her next album, Aretha included her Grammy-winning duet with George Michael, "I Knew You Were Waiting (for Me)".

Franklin appeared in the 1980 film The Blues Brothers. Image: Getty Images.

He career plateaued slightly when she returned to gospel, however in 1987, Franklin became the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She also won 18 Grammy Awards over her life time and in 1994 she received a Grammy for lifetime achievement.

Franklin also sang at the inaugurations of three U.S. Presidents -- Jimmy Cater, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. She continued to record throughout the 2000s without much success and she even opened her own record label in 2003 called Aretha, but didn't release any albums on it.

Icon For Women's Empowerment And Civil Rights

Her song "Respect", which was backed by her sisters Carolyn and Erma became an anthem for the Feminist movement in the United States. The song came at a time the women's rights movement was gaining momentum on a global scale, with women starting to demand what they had been denied throughout history -- equal rights and respect.

The fact that "Respect" was written by a man made Franklin's powerful message of equality even stronger. Franklin's portrayal of the song as a  strong and independent woman made it a hit at the time with a message that transcends to the modern era.

Franklin sang at Barack Obama's inauguration. Image: Getty Images.

Franklin was also an icon for the U.S. civil rights movement. She received an award from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and eventually was called 'Lady Soul'. She became the second ever African- American woman to appear on the cover of Time magazine. Her success as a woman of colour in her era, backed by her upbringing from her father -- who was actively involved in the civil rights movement saw her legacy of music become entwined with social equality.

In her passing, Franklin leaves the world with a legacy characterised by  a fight for equal rights captured and preserved beautifully in her music.