Taking a look at women artists who made their mark in the latter half of the 20th century.........
Aretha Franklin (1942- 2018) – ‘The Queen of Soul’
Voted the greatest singer of all time by Rolling Stone magazine, the legendary Aretha Franklin also had the honour of becoming the first woman ever to be enrolled in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The daughter of a Baptist minister father and a mother who was a piano-player, Aretha was raised singing gospel, performing at her father’s church. She made her first record of gospel tracks when she was 14, (by which time she was already a mother), and she signed to Columbia Records at 18. However, it was with her move to Atlantic Records in 1967 and a return to her gospel-blues roots that her career really took off, initially with the song,” I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You.” (Here sung in an incredible performance at The White House in 2014)
A string of other hits followed through the late 60’s including “Respect,” “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman” and “Chain of Fools, sealing her reputation as ‘The Queen of Soul.’ Over her lifetime, she sold over 75 million records, was awarded 18 Grammy Awards, sang at the inauguration of three U.S. Presidents and at the funeral of Martin Luther King.
What made Aretha such a musical giant? Part of it was her incomparable voice which could move effortlessly from tenderness to heartbreak, from seduction to defiance. Alongside this, she created a sound that was all her own – combining blues and jazz with her strong gospel roots. And her ability to interpret other people’s songs and make them her own was second to none.
A perfect example was Otis Redding’s Respect, which Aretha recorded in 1967. In his version a desperate man pleads with his woman to give him some respect. Aretha transformed the song into one in which a confident woman demands respect – or else! She upped the tempo and added that iconic R-E-S-P-E-C-T bridge. When Otis first heard the new version he apparently said, “I just lost my song. That girl took it away from me.” The song went to No.1 and became an anthem for women’s empowerment and later for the civil rights movement. Here she is performing the song live in 1968.
Over the years Aretha inspired countless singers, including, among others, Natalie Cole, Chaka Khan and Whitney Houston, and her influence can be seen in many strong contemporary female artists, such as Beyonce, Alicia Keys and Adele.
Mary J. Blige is quoted as saying, “When it comes to expressing yourself through song, there is no one who can touch her. She is the reason why women want to sing.”
Find out more about Aretha’s life here:
Carole King (1942-)
Carole King, a supremely talented and prolific composer, was really the first female artist in popular music to have had complete control of her own work. She has written, or co-written, over 400 songs that have been recorded by more than a thousand artists worldwide and has been a big influence on later singer-song writers such as Stevie Nicks, Amy Winehouse & Adele. It has been suggested that she “almost single-handedly opened the doors of popular music song writing to women.”
Born Carol Klein, she showed great musical talent as a child, becoming an accomplished pianist by the age of 10. At High School, she chose ‘King’ as a new surname, began writing songs and formed her first band. She met her future husband and writing partner, Gerry Goffin whilst at Queens College, but she dropped out after becoming pregnant with their first child. Gerry also gave up his studies and took a day job so that together they could concentrate on song writing, Carole providing the melodies for Gerry’s lyrics. Their first hit, the classic “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” recorded by the Shirelles, came when Carole was still only 18.
Throughout the 60’s the pair had success after success writing hits like “The Loco-Motion,” “Up on the Roof,” and “Natural Born Woman.” However, their marriage faltered and they divorced in 1969.
Carole moved to Los Angeles where she met James Taylor, with whom she has enjoyed a lifelong friendship. With his encouragement, she began writing songs on her own. Success wasn’t long in coming; in 1971 she released the album “Tapestry,” one of the best-selling albums of all time and a winner of 4 Grammy Awards. It included the wonderful, ”You’ve Got a Friend,” with which James Taylor had a No. 1 hit.
During the 70’s she continued to release popular albums, but in the 80’s she gradually withdrew from the music scene, concentrating her efforts on environmental causes. In 2007, however, she got back together with James Taylor for a reunion concert followed by the “Troubadour” tour in 2010. Here they are singing ‘You’ve Got a Friend” with an ending that’s almost guaranteed to put a smile on your face!
This was followed by a landmark concert in 2016 at Hyde Park – her first ever live performance of the entire “Tapestry” album in front of 65,000 people. Not bad for a 74 year old!
Find out more about Carole's life and music here.
Madonna (1958 -) ‘The Queen of Pop’
It may be said that Madonna earned the title ‘Queen of Pop’ not so much as a result of great vocal prowess or song writing skills, but rather more because of her ability to constantly reinvent herself, in both her music and appearance. This was reinforced by her clever use of controversial music videos to display her latest reincarnation, which helped to keep her very much in the public eye throughout her almost 40-year career.
Madonna developed her rebel spirit as a teenager, kicking back against her strict upbringing in a large, devoutly Catholic family. Her original ambition was to become a dancer, having won a University scholarship to study dance. However, she dropped out to join a band, thereby taking the first steps along the path to becoming both the wealthiest and the best-selling female recording artist of all time.
Always provocative, Madonna embodied female empowerment. Her clothing and lifestyle, her videos and high-concept tours all played a part in changing expectations of how female pop singers should behave, paving the way for other artists like Beyonce, Lady Gaga & Rihanna to follow.
Find out more about Madonna’s life and work here.