If you're reading the tributes to Aretha Franklin, who died Thursday at age 76, then you know that religion is a vital part of her story.
It's impossible to write the Queen of Soul's obituary without giving prominent attention to her upbringing as the daughter of a Baptist preacher.
Her gospel roots, after all, influenced not just her musical career but her entire life.
Good news: Major news organizations are giving a whole lot of R-E-S-P-E-C-T to the faith angle.
For example, here is the opening of the Los Angeles Times' lengthy obit:
Aretha Franklin, the preacher’s daughter who became the “Queen of Soul” and forged the template of the larger-than-life pop diva with her exuberant, gospel-rooted singing, has died. She was 76.
Franklin died Thursday of advanced pancreatic cancer, according to her publicist Gwendolyn Quinn.
In a career she began as a teenager in the 1950s, Franklin went from singing in her father’s Detroit Baptist church to performing for presidents and royalty as she took soul music to its creative and commercial pinnacle.
Meanwhile, this big chunk of religious background (my apologies for the length of this blockquote) is included in The Associated Press' main obit:
Despite growing up in Detroit, and having Robinson as a childhood friend, Franklin never recorded for Motown Records; stints with Columbia and Arista were sandwiched around her prime years with Atlantic Records. But it was at Detroit’s New Bethel Baptist Church, where her father was pastor, that Franklin learned the gospel fundamentals that would make her a soul institution.
Aretha Louise Franklin was born March 25, 1942, in Memphis, Tennessee. The Rev. C.L. Franklin soon moved his family to Buffalo, New York, then to Detroit, where the Franklins settled after the marriage of Aretha’s parents collapsed and her mother (and reputed sound-alike) Barbara returned to Buffalo.
C.L. Franklin was among the most prominent Baptist ministers of his time. He recorded dozens of albums of sermons and music and knew such gospel stars as Marion Williams and Clara Ward, who mentored Aretha and her sisters Carolyn and Erma. (Both sisters sang on Aretha’s records, and Carolyn also wrote “Ain’t No Way” and other songs for Aretha). Music was the family business and performers from Sam Cooke to Lou Rawls were guests at the Franklin house. In the living room, the shy young Aretha awed friends with her playing on the grand piano.
Franklin occasionally performed at New Bethel Baptist throughout her career; her 1987 gospel album “One Lord One Faith One Baptism” was recorded live at the church.
Her most acclaimed gospel recording came in 1972 with the Grammy-winning album “Amazing Grace,” which was recorded live at New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in South Central Los Angeles and featured gospel legend James Cleveland, along with her own father (Mick Jagger was one of the celebrities in the audience). It became one of the best-selling gospel albums ever.
Elsewhere, Religion News Service's Adelle Banks has a must-read overview of Franklin's religious story.
Some of what Banks reports:
Often simply called “Aretha,” Franklin got her start in the Detroit church of her pastor father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin. She was first recorded at his New Bethel Baptist Church on the album “Spirituals” at age 14.
“Aretha, like Al Green, is one of the few artists who is universally accepted in the black church,” Bil Carpenter, author of “Uncloudy Days: The Gospel Music Encyclopedia,” told Religion News Service. “The church often shuns artists who sing R&B as backsliders and reject them when they come back and sing gospel. However, Aretha’s always been given a pass.”
When Franklin, a Memphis, Tenn., native, who was raised in Detroit, was awarded the 2005 Presidential Medal of Freedom by then-President George W. Bush, the citation noted: “Her instantly recognizable voice has captivated listeners ever since she toured with her father’s gospel revue in the 1950s.”
Gospel and soul singer Candi Staton, who traveled on the gospel circuit with Franklin during that decade when they were teens, recalled that her friend was a “gifted singer even as a young girl,” though no one knew then all the hits that would follow with her unique voice.
I'll avoid the temptation to copy and paste the entire RNS piece and simply urge you to read it.
I'll end with former President Barack Obama's words on Twitter: