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Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin Has Still Got It


She is known as the Queen of Soul, and it's easy to see why. Aretha Franklin has been honored with 21 Grammy Awards, was the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and has been named the greatest singer of the rock 'n' roll era by Rolling Stone magazine.

But despite her numerous accolades, a total of 45 "Top 40" hits on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and a royal title, Franklin is about as down-to-earth as can be.

Michigan girl rises from choir member to pop star

Aretha Louise Franklin started her musical career at a tender age. Born in 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee, she grew up in Detroit, Michigan, listening to the gospel choirs singing for her father, renowned Baptist preacher the Rev. Cecil Franklin.

Franklin was soon singing in the choir herself, and by the time she was 14, she had already recorded her first album of gospel songs.

In a career that spans almost half a century, Franklin has written and performed hundreds of hits, winning millions of fans across the globe. She launched her musical career in the 1960s with a series of popular songs, including the one that became her signature, "RESPECT."

Franklin says her hit song became a woman's anthem, a battle cry, a mantra.

"Everyone wants respect. Everyone needs respect. From the young to the very old and in the middle; male, female, we all want respect," she says. "And we all want to be appreciated. So it pretty much means the same thing to me now as it did then."

Fans hail Queen of Soul

Franklin herself is deeply respected by her fans and fellow artists. At a 2003 concert in Portsmouth, Virginia, fan Melody Hunter said she felt very lucky and blessed to have attended Franklin's concert.

"She's the Queen. She's No. 1," Hunter said.

Another fan, Antonio Butler, says one can hear a variety of different genres in Franklin's music.

"You can hear everything in her music from gospel to rock to pop."

G. AC Lamour, a Franklin fan and disc jockey, was inspired by Franklin's performance.

"It was truly, truly an inspiration to see one of the greatest R&B [rhythm and blues] artists that ever lived. She is undoubtedly the Queen."

Over the years, the Queen of Soul has performed with royalty from every corner of the music kingdom, including rocker Sir Elton John, R&B legends Luther Vandross, Smokey Robinson and Stevie Wonder, country artist Bonnie Raitt, Latin diva Gloria Estefan, and pop star George Michael.

Singer balances work, family

Franklin's advice for someone who is just starting out in the music business is simple: "It's the same thing that it's always been; get the diploma, get the paper behind you, because getting in the music industry is not a picnic."

At home in Michigan, when she's not performing, the twice-divorced Franklin says she does her own cooking, washing and ironing. And she's always tried to balance her career with taking care of her four boys, now grown and all in the music business.

Franklin says she made a point of being at home with her family half the time and in concert half the time, an arrangement she said worked well for her family.

'Music is my thing. It's who I am.'

At 66, Franklin says she'd like to resume doing some of the things she enjoyed when she was younger, such as writing and touring internationally. When touring overseas, Franklin says that although many of her fans may not know the words to her songs, they can still enjoy her music.

"You can see it in their expressions, in their movement. They're still enjoying it, so it transcends the lyrics. It transcends the music," she says.

Franklin says she would also like to do more film and play acting. She starred in the 1980 musical comedy film The Blues Brothers and is planning to start work on another album for 2009… right after she performs at Barack Obama's inauguration ceremony.

The Queen of Soul plans to be in the spotlight for a long time.

"Oh, absolutely. Music is my thing. It's who I am. I'm in it for the long run, so I'll be around singing, 'What you want? Baby, I got it."

VOA correspondent Larry London contributed to this report.

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