How pain and passion shaped the genius of Aretha Franklin

She was a child prodigy whose brilliance was clear from the start. But the struggles she endured helped make her the Queen of Soul.

Accenting Aretha Franklin’s gospel roots in this 1967 photo, Art Kane moved his camera to make the light look like halos in her eyes.
Photograph by ART KANE

Wearing a crisp white shirt and a black bouffant curled in a flip, Aretha Franklin seemed pensive but confident as she walked into the legendary FAME Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, in January 1967.

Franklin, just 24 years old, proceeded to take control with exceptional poise. She had not yet become a musical and cultural icon. She had not yet become Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul.

That day, she was largely unknown and a mystery. The studio musicians were not sure what to think. The creative tension was as thick as the cigarette smoke. It’s hard to imagine now, but Franklin was desperate for a hit. 

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