Aretha Franklin born in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1942 died earlier this week from advanced pancreatic cancer. In her career, Aretha — the Queen of Soul — won 18 Grammy Awards and had more than 100 singles on the Billboard charts.
As a young teen, Aretha performed with her father C.L. Franklin, a Baptist minister and a civil-rights activist on his gospel programs in major cities throughout the country and was recognized as a vocal prodigy. As a 14 year old her album The Gospel Sound of Aretha Franklin (1956) captured the electricity of her performances. At age 18, with her father’s blessing, Aretha visited New York, where she signed with Columbia Records.
Aretha’s popular singles are now considered classics. In 1967, Franklin released “Respect,” arguably her most famous song, which became an anthem for the political movements of the time. Importantly Aretha maintained ownership of her original compositions, which include well-known hits such as “Think” and “Rock Steady.”
Aretha also sang at the inauguration of Barack Obama in 2009, and at concerts for Jimmy Carter in 1977 and Bill Clinton in 1993.
It has been reported that unlike many performers Aretha was protective of her finances demanding cash payments (which she kept in a handbag near her onstage) before performing live.
In 1968, Aretha performed “Take My Hand, Precious Lord,” at Martin Luther King’s funeral. It has been reported that when Dr. King was alive, on several occasions Aretha helped the SCLC make payroll. Throughout her career whenever Aretha performed it was a contractual obligation that she would never perform for a segregated audience.
In 1970, feminist activist, scholar, and a then-avowed member of the Communist Party Angela Davis was arrested and incarcerated for 16 months for what were found to be wrongful kidnapping and murder charges. Aretha wanted to post her bond, “whether it’s $100,000 or $250,000… Angela Davis must go free.”
Aretha noted that she had the money to post bond because she’d earned it from black people. She therefore wanted to use it “in ways that will help our people.”
In 1987 she became the first female artist to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in 2008 she won her 18th Grammy Award, making her one of the most honoured artists in Grammy history.
A notoriously private person it appears that she did not leave a Will or trust. Under Michigan law, the assets of an unmarried person who dies without a will are divided equally among their children. Aretha had been married, and divorced twice. This week her four sons filed a document listing themselves as interested parties in her estate stating that Aretha
“…died intestate and after exercising reasonable diligence, (we are) unaware of any unrevoked testamentary instrument relating to property located in this state as defined.”
Aretha’s niece Sabrina asked the court to appoint her as personal representative of the estate.
Aretha’s attorney in regard to copyright matters, song publishing and record deals had wanted her to form a trust for a number of years in order “expedite things and kept them out of probate, and keep things private.”
Although it has been reported that Aretha’s estate is valued at around $80million due to her cultural legacy it’s impossible to place a dollar figure on the value of her song catalogue.
It is not uncommon for people to die intestate, as I have posted Prince, Billie Holliday, and Kurt Cobain died intestate, however given Aretha’s legacy, business acumen, and long illness it is surprising that she wasn’t more like David Bowie who was similarly diagnosed with a serious illness but made arrangements for the control of his legacy.