Aretha Franklin and Martin Luther King: Get to Know The Coincidence Of 2 Great Souls

February 17, 2022 7 min read

Aretha Franklin and Martin Luther King: Get to Know The Coincidence Of 2 Great Souls

It is a phenomenon when civil rights leaders are always strongly connected with each other. Aretha Franklin and Martin Luther King – the Queen of Soul music and the great civil rights leader, the relationship between these two famous people seem to be overshadowed in the turmoil of black history. But are they really two parallel lines? 

The truth is, Aretha Franklin and Martin Luther King have a special platonic relationship. Although they operate in different fields, these activists still support each other in a very subtle way to achieve ultimate liberation.  

Let’s find out how these two great people can create such a huge impact on this world. 

Aretha Franklin Biography 

Aretha Franklin's Life and Career Path 

Aretha Franklin is an artist of color who grew up in a family whose father was a church preacher and choir leader. Thanks to the help of her father Clarence LaVaughn Franklin, at the age of 10, little Aretha Franklin became a choir member and quickly became famous for her natural musical talent. 

In 1956, the female singer recorded her first song and signed a contract with JVB Records. Since then, this outstanding vocalist became known as a gospel singer with her debut album Songs of faith. In September 1960, Columbia Records released the 18-year-old rookie's first record, “Today I Sing The Blues”. The song quickly entered the top 10 of Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. 

Aretha Franklin and Martin Luther King

Atlantic Records, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons 

Four months later, Aretha Franklin released her first album called Aretha. She then released the hit Won't Be Long, which peaked at number 7 on R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and number 76 on the Billboard Hot 100. Also in 1961, she released two more singles which are "Operation heartbreak" and "Rock-a-bye your baby". In 1964, DJ Pervis Spann in Chicago called Aretha Franklin "the new Queen of Soul music". This name came just three years after this new vocalist released his debut album. 

Aretha Franklin and Martin Luther King

Atlantic Records, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons 

Referring to Aretha Franklin's music during this golden period, it is impossible not to mention the song "Respect". The song was a pioneering act in the movement to fight for feminism through music. Feminism in the singer's music later had a great influence on the legendary junior divas such as Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Céline Dion... Whenever fans look back at her great musical career As a female singer, people still remember Respect as an immortal symbol, a strong statement for the endless power and strength of women around the planet. 

After only 13 years of working in the profession, Aretha Franklin had won 10 noble Grammy Awards in her music career. This was the peak of this diverse vocalist. In the following years, from 1969 to 1975, the female singer continuously won 6 Grammy Awards in the category of Best Female R&B Performance with immortal works: "Chain of Fools", "Share your love with me", "Don't play that song for me", "Bridge over troubled water", etc. In 1974, Aretha Franklin also won the Grammy Award in the category of Best Gospel Performance with the album The Amazing Grace. 

Aretha Franklin and Barack Obama 

At the time, Aretha Franklin received much respect from powerful figures, including Barack Obama. This female singer performed the classic song at the inauguration of the US president in 2009. In 2015, on a music night honoring herself, Aretha Franklin performed the song "(You make me feel like) a natural woman". The female singer's excellent performance made the head of the White House at that time shed tears while enjoying it. 

Aretha Franklin and Martin Luther King

Cecilio Ricardo, U.S. Air Force, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons 

Former US President Barack Obama and his wife also expressed their condolences and great admiration for the female singer.  

"In Aretha Franklin's voice, we can feel history, strength, pain, darkness, and light, and reverence for the singer. She helped us feel more connected, more hopeful and more human,"  

Barack Obama shared before announcing the death of his beloved artist. 

Aretha Franklin passed away on August 16, 2018, from terminal pancreatic cancer, leaving behind a massive musical legacy, with 18 Grammy awards, 20 Billboard Hot 100 songs. The music star born in 1942 was voted by Time magazine as the 100 most important people of the 20th century along with many outstanding greats in other fields. 

"The earth lost a lot of music when she went home today, but the heavens rejoice. Heaven has a new lead singer for the gospel choir,"said the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a longtime friend who visited her the day before her death. "She gave so much to so many people, from Dr. King to Mandela, to Barack Obama." 

Out-of-World Connection Between Aretha Franklin and Martin Luther King Revealed 

Her father, C. L. Franklin, and Martin Luther King Were Close Friends 

Aretha Franklin was surrounded by civil rights activists from a young age, having grown up in Detroit, Michigan in the early fifties. Franklin, whose mother died when Aretha was 10, was raised primarily by her father, C.L. Franklin, a Baptist minister and a friend of Martin Luther King. Aretha's father contributed to many movements of Luther King including the freedom march down Woodward Avenue in Detroit in 1963.  

The historic Detroit Walk to Freedom in 1963, organized by Pastor Franklin - was the largest-ever demonstration for civil rights in the US until the March on Washington took place later on in the same year. The March on Washington was also the day that Rev King first made his famous speech titled "I Have a Dream"

"Well, he and my dad were great friends and my dad from time to time, being the older gentleman would counsel Dr. King sometimes. I always had a great admiration for him and his sense of decency and the justice that he wanted. He was a good man," Franklin told Ebony. 

Aretha Franklin and Martin Luther King

L. Franklin and Martin Luther King Led the First Presentation of “I Have a Dream” Speech, USA TODAY

Dr. King was also a friend of Franklin's father's and would be an occasional house guest at their home, so she knew him well. As a child, she sometimes sang with him on the gospel tours her father took her on. Her singing talent which started in her early years would lead to her performing in church. By the time she was about 16 years old, she had performed with Martin Luther King Jr. on a tour. She then traveled with Martin Luther King Jr., singing in his church choir, and became a huge supporter of King from her early years. 

Aretha Franklin Played An Essential Role in Martin Luther King Jr.’S Movement 

While MLK was naturally a major influence on Aretha and her music, Aretha actually helped power the civil rights movement, too. According to reports, Franklin helped King's movements and other people involved with payroll several times. Also, she added this with about 11 concerts for free at a point when gas was put in MLK's movement vans. She reportedly hosted many of the activists at her home and still raised funds for the campaign of Jesse Jackson – an activist, politician, and Baptist minister. 

"Her songs were songs of the movement," Andrew Young, the former King lieutenant, and U.N. ambassador, said Thursday. "R-E-S-P-E-C-T. ... That's basically what we wanted. The movement was about respect." 

The SCLC often struggled financially, but Franklin played a vital role in keeping the movement afloat. 

"Almost every time we needed money, there were two people we could always count on: Aretha Franklin and Harry Belafonte," Young said. "They would get together and have a concert, and that would put us back on our feet." 

Aretha Franklin Was Presented An Award Made for Her by Martin Luther King 

Aretha Franklin held a homecoming concert in Detroit to an audience of 12,000. The concert was attended by many distinguished, including Martin Luther King. He handed her a special award from the Southern Christian Leadership.  

Aretha Franklin and Martin Luther King

Aretha Franklin and Martin Luther King, Socialist Worker 

King and Franklin were like spiritual siblings, sharing a bond rooted in their Christian faith, Young said. King would often ask Franklin to sing his favorite songs, "Amazing Grace" or "Precious Lord, Take My Hand."  

Aretha Franklin Sang at Luther King’s Memorial 

Following the death of Martin Luther King, Aretha Franklin sang one of Luther King’s favorite songs, "Precious Lord, Take My Hand". The title of the song according to eyewitnesses were the last words he said at the balcony before his assassination – “Ben, make sure you play Take My Hand, Precious Lord in the meeting tonight. Play it real pretty.” 

Aretha Franklin and Martin Luther King

Tami A. Heilemann-Office of Communications, US Dept. of Interior, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons 

In an interview months after King’s assassination in 1968, Franklin found it hard to describe her emotions about the incident. “I just can’t find words to express how I feel,” Franklin told a Canadian newspaper that year, calling King’s death “a great tragedy”

She Continued to Have a Good Relationship with Martin Luther King’s Family After His Demise 

Although he was no more, Aretha Franklin did not forget the family of the man she respected while he was alive and still did after his death. She was reportedly there for the family a lot of times and had a stronger relationship with King’s widowed wife, Coretta Scott. Franklin also worked hard with the family to continue with the legacy he had left as well as contributed towards establishing the King Holiday. 

When Aretha passed away in 2018, Rev King’s youngest child, Bernice King described Aretha as a “legend from the civil rights era” and detailed how Aretha was the soundtrack to “freedom” and supported Rev King and other civil rights leaders. 

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Aretha is satisfied with her journey. She loved her life and talked a lot about the wonderful memories she had. Aretha has been named the "queen of Soul music" and that's what she wants her people to remember. Aretha not only has a natural voice to sing Soul music, but she also has a strong heart and fights for what is right with her voice. 

Apparently, the powerful message of Martin Luther King and the talent of Aretha Franklin made a huge impact on the world. In the future, there will be more valuable relationships created as an effort to make the world a better place. 


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