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Does The Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin Have An Heir To The Throne?

by Kenney Dennard

The music industry has been moving swiftly to a place of uncertainty for a while. Internet downloading, as well as sites like MySpace and YouTube are drastically changing the landscape of the music industry. With legendary artists dying off such as Michael Jackson and Luther Vandross there are many spots in the industry that no one is stepping up to fill. As far as female artists, it’s astonishing that although there are several top performers, there is still one Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. Aretha stepped onto the scene in 1960. But over 50 years later, can you think of one person that could fill her shoes?

"Aretha sang from the heart," legendary DJ and current Love 103.7 of Middle Georgia Director of Operations, 'Big George' Threat says. "A lot of these artists today follow trends or whatever is going to make them money. They don't sing from the heart and about what they really feel nowadays. They try to satisfy too many people."

Franklin has had some career.  She started out singing in the choir at her father Reverend C.L. Franklin's church as a teenager. Aretha would first sign with Columbia Records in 1960 singing the blues.  She had a few moderate hits such as "Rock-A-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody" and "Today I Sing the Blues." After a few years though, she was unsatisfied with her success, so she moved to a different label.  Producer Jerry Wexler and Atlantic Records welcomed her with open arms. There, she was allowed to sing soul music.

The hits came instantly from Atlantic.  Her first single with them, "I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love You)," shot straight to number one and stayed there for seven weeks.  The B-Side, "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man" was also a big hit.  Aretha then recorded the album, "I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love you)."  The next single was a remake of Macon, Georgia, native Otis Redding's "Respect."  It reached #1 on the R&B and Pop charts and would become her signature song for life. 

Within the next year Franklin released several more hits including "Chain of Fools," and "You Make Me Feel (Like a Natural Woman)."  By 1968, she won two Grammys for "Respect," and "Best Female R&B Vocal Performance."  She went on to win eight of those awards in a row. 

Aretha Franklin became known as the Queen of Soul because of her soulful voice and the number of hits she was producing.  She was selling millions way before the video age. It was strictly off of the strength of her voice and music. She was light years ahead of most of the female vocalists of her time.  She released gospel albums that did just as well as her blues albums.  Her 1972 album, "Amazing Grace," went double platinum and became the best selling gospel album of all time until Whitney Houston's "The Preacher's Wife," Soundtrack some 25 years later.

In 1974 Aretha enjoyed her last #1 Hit, "Until You Come Back to Me," in 10 years.  Disco Music had come in and her sound had become somewhat dated.  She re-emerged though in the 80's with the hit album, "Jump to It," with the hit, "Giving Him Something He Can Feel."

Then in 1985, Franklin experienced another smash hit with "Who's Zooming Who?"  The hit single, "Freeway to Love," stayed on the charts for weeks. Then in 1986, she did nearly as well with the album, "Aretha," which spawned her first #1 single in 2 decades with the George Michael Duet, "I Know You Were Waiting (For Me)."

In 1998, Aretha Franklin released another hit album, "A Rose is Still a Rose," with the single of the same name produced by Lauryn Hill.  It went gold, selling 500,000 copies.

Five decades after her debut, in 2003, Franklin released, "So Damn Happy," which spawned the hit "Wonderful," which won her another Grammy.  In her career now, Aretha Franklin has won 18 Grammys.

So the question at hand is, "Does she have an heir to the throne?"

For years, the most logical answer would have been Whitney Houston. The numbers all point to her. "The Preachers Wife," soundtrack beat out Aretha's "Amazing Grace," as top selling gospel album of all time. Whitney's albums and soundtracks beat out almost everyone outside of Michael Jackson’s records. She seemed to have had the world in the palm of her hands in the early 90's. But then suddenly as it had come, it all began to slip away. By the late 90's, it was evident that drugs had begun to take over Houston, as pictures floated around of her barely weighing 100 pounds. Then came the infamous Diane Sawyer interview. "Whitney turned a lot of people off with the TV interview she did, Threatt says. "She had been going downhill since her marriage but when she was on TV talking about 'Crack is Whack,' and 'Hell to the Naw,' she really put the nail in the coffin."

Whitney still has that international fan base although they are beginning to dwindle. Her new album, "I Look to You," has her experiencing highs and lows. On the plus side, it's sold millions across the globe. She's on a world-wide tour now promoting it. But on the downside, the tour is receiving terrible reviews. USA Today reported last month that many people are demanding money back for tickets. They say she spends much of the tour apologizing for a voice that is nowhere near what people remember and expect.

Mary J. Blige was crowned The Queen of Hip Hop Soul early in her career because of the use of hip hop beats that she and then producer Sean 'Puffy' Combs used on her early material. For example, her break out single, "Real Love," sampled Audio Two's hit "Top Billin'." In a market where the rappers were always sampling R&B and Soul records, she was the first to sample mostly old hip hop beats to sing over.

Blige won many of her fans over with her first 3 albums before distancing herself from Combs and covering more mature subjects. "I think Mary J. is the only artist out today that sings what's going on in her real life. She always takes what she's going through and makes an album with it," Atlanta Pianist Erica Teal exclaims. Mary is now on her 9th album in 17 years and has many awards and accolades under her belt including nine Grammys and 8 multi-platinum albums . Her latest album, "Stronger with Each Tear," hasn't scored as big her usually work does.

Mariah Carey has entered her 20th year in the music business. According to Billboard Magazine, she was the most successful artist of the 1990's. She definitely has a voice that would automatically put her in contention. She began her career off with a blast wowing fans of all races and ages, but somehow between those days and now and a flop here and there (Glitter), she lost something. "Mariah would be my pick at contending with Aretha," Big George states, "But she stopped really singing and now just aims at the teenage crowd."

In 2008, Mariah earned her 18th #1 single on the Hot 100, making the most of any artist in charts history. Mariah's latest album, "Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel," is her 11th studio release.

Beyonce is one of the biggest R&B singers of today. She, too, is in the record books for some of her own records broken such as the most Grammys won in a single night by a female. She won six in 2009. Although still rather early in her career she has already won 16 Grammys. Thirteen of them came as a solo artist and 3 with her former group, Destiny's Child.

"Beyonce is more of a Tina Turner Type," Teal argues. "She is more of an entertainer. I don't think she would be competing for Aretha's crown." Beyonce actually started a bit of a beef a couple years ago at the Grammys when she suggested that Tina Turner was the queen. Aretha Franklin didn't appreciate that a bit and let it be known the very next day."

Beyonce's career still seems to rise to new heights with the release of each CD. "She definitely has the ability to contend," Threatt adds, "But I think she is aiming more toward being an all around entertainer."

Other female newer vocalists include Keyshia Cole and Alicia Keys, who both have amazing voices and numerous hits. They are both very early in their careers though to compare although they show a lot of potential. However, in the end, how many of these artists have songs as memorable as "Chain of Fools," "Think," and "Respect?" Do any of them have signature songs that will be played and cherished as much as Aretha 5 decades from now? Could they have made it without music videos? It seems that after 50 years, those things help keep Aretha Franklin the reigning Queen of Soul.



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Aretha Franklin