There has been no greater American popular singer than Aretha Franklin. It is difficult to imagine that there ever will be. We’re not talking about sales here, but a hard-to-define quality that encompasses unearthly musical talent along with strength, compassion and character.
That does not mean that she didn’t sell a lot of records. Estimates of her total worldwide sales top 75 million albums in a career that spanned more than six decades. According to Wikipedia, her first studio album was released in 1956. She was just 14 years old.
She signed a contract with Columbia records in 1961 and released nine albums before switching labels to Atlantic. Although she recorded two more albums for Columbia, it’s the Atlantic recordings that made her famous. Until her retirement last year, Franklin released 131 singles, 42 studio albums, six live albums and 45 compilation albums.
In the United States, she had 25 certified gold albums, according to RIAA data (minimum sales of 500,000 copies) and four certified platinum albums (1 million sales), including one double platinum album (“Amazing Grace,” a live recording). That adds up to certified sales of more than 17.5 million albums and doesn’t include album sales of less than half a million.
Until March of last year, Franklin had more records on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart than any other female artist. Over the course of her career, she posted 21 number one records on Billboard’s rhythm and blues charts, along with 77 singles in the Top 100 and 17 pop Top 10s.
Franklin won 18 Grammy awards including a Lifetime Achievement Award (1994) and was the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1987). She received the National Medal of Arts in 1999 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005.
Her death on Thursday reminds us of a time when giants roamed this earth.