On January 6, 1987, Aretha Franklin became the first female to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

In 1986 the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame experienced some criticism over not having a single woman mentioned on their list of 10 nominees. The following year on January 6, 1987, Aretha Franklin became the very first female to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, alongside fellow music legends like Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, and Muddy Waters. Although she wasn’t able to attend the ceremony in person, her speech which Clive Davis read aloud to the audience declared “To be the first woman inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a historical moment and indeed a milestone in my career…It is with many thanks and appreciation that I proudly accept and take my place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame”.

To this day, just over three dozen female performers or bands with women in them have become part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The music industry has been called a man’s world, a boy’s club, but Aretha commanded attention and earned the respect she achieved throughout her legendary and celebrated career. Aretha helped pave the way for other female musicians, and specifically female African American artists.

One of America’s most beloved singers, known as the ‘Queen of Soul’, won the hearts of her worldwide fans with her version of Otis Redding’s song “Respect”. The song, which has reached number 1 on both the R&B and Pop Charts, became her signature hit and later celebrated as a civil rights and feminist anthem. Her other top hits include “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” “Think,” “Baby I Love You,” and “Chain of Fools.”

Aretha Franklin’s powerful and dynamic voice, piano playing, and unforgettable songs have earned her a spot as one of the most iconic musicians in American history. Over her career, she earned 18 Grammy Awards, as well as a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. She had more than 100 singles on the Billboard Charts, including 17 top 10 on the Pop Chart and 20 #1 hits on the R&B Chart.

In 2010, Rolling Stones ranked her number one on their list of “100 Greatest Singers of All Time”. She also sang at Barack Obama’s inauguration, at the pre-inauguration concerts for Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, as well as the memorial service for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In addition to her civil rights and feminist’s activism work, she was also a supporter of Native American rights. In 2005 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the award is bestowed by the president to those who made big contributions to the national interests of the United States, world peace, or significant cultural endeavor. 

“Nobody embodies more fully the connection between the African-American spiritual, the blues, R&B, rock and roll—the way that hardship and sorrow were transformed into something full of beauty and vitality and hope” Barrack Obama on Aretha Franklin

Devon Ebersold for Keeping the Blues Alive

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