The world may claim her as the Queen of Soul, a pioneer in modern music, a diva with an unmatched vocal range. But for metro Detroit natives, Aretha Franklin is not simply a decorated icon. No, for Detroiters, she’s a hometown hero, her success a win for the city at large.
Born in 1942 to Barbara and the Rev. Clarence LaVaughn “C. L.” Franklin, Aretha Louise Franklin was raised on Detroit’s west side. She was educated in the Detroit Public School system and found her voice at New Bethel Baptist Church, the LaSalle Gardens church her father pastored. It was behind the pulpit at New Bethel that Aretha electrified audiences with her soulful chords.
Coming up during the rise of the star-studded Detroit label, Aretha’s proximity to Motown and the increasingly popular artists they signed, often leads people to mistake her for a member of the Motown family. Aretha’s ascent to superstardom, however, was unparalleled to that of her musically inclined peers. Managed early on by her father, Aretha parlayed her liturgical roots into a thriving career as a gospel artist, recording her first tracks in her early teens. At just 18, she broke into secular music, signing with Columbia Records where she first charted on the Billboard Hot 100. After five years with the label, she joined Atlantic Records, with whom she recorded hits such as “Respect,” “Something He Can Feel,” and more. And eventually, she signed with Arista Records. During her time with the label, she became the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Last August, the world mourned the superstar’s death, but in Detroit, her presence lives on. In September, Chene Park was renamed Aretha Franklin Amphitheatre and this March, a bill was passed to rename a stretch of M-10 Aretha L. Franklin Memorial Highway.
This year, Hour Detroit editors introduced a new category to the Best of Detroit ballot, calling readers to vote for the Best Detroit Legend. Though the region has a long history of notable talents who have made their mark on a global scale, Aretha came out victorious, winning the new addition by a landslide.
Painted by this year’s winner for Best Fine Artist Kim Frank Fujiwara, our first cover featuring Aretha commemorates her ongoing place in this region, paying respect to a legend we can proudly call our own.