March 25, 2012 at 12:16 AM ET
It’s easy to view Aretha Franklin as a national treasure. She’s sung everything from gospel to soul to dance music to pop standards, and she sung it well. She even lit up President Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration with a stirring rendition of “My Country, ’Tis of Thee.”
But the Queen of Soul, as she’s known, is in fact a mortal and turns 70 on March 25 (a birthday she shares with another larger-than-life pop-music legend Elton John). Franklin came of age singing in church and brought her gospel stylings to the mainstream when she hit it big in the 1960s. She was never as sexy as many of the female singers of her era, nor was she as smooth as the male ones. But what she brought to the table usually outclassed them all: a voice so rich and powerful it virtually defined American soul music.
It’s a voice that influenced generations of singers. With no Aretha, there’s no Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey or Christina Aguilera. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine a lot of male singers without her, such as Luther Vandross or George Michael (with whom she sang a chart-topping duet in 1987).
How to pay tribute to such a soul legend? Make it a point to see her live.
Franklin has had some recent health scares, and health issues purportedly were the reason she backed out of singing at Houston’s funeral. Yet she still soldiers on with her voice in seemingly excellent shape. In light of the deaths of so many of her contemporaries, Franklin is genuinely a survivor, having endured health problems, an abusive husband and financial troubles.
In the next few months, she’s scheduled to play gigs in Ohio, Kentucky and New York. Critics might poke fun at what Franklin wears (see the inauguration clip) or her recent on-and-off marriage plans, but when she starts to sing, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone being critical.
Check out some of her greatest hits below, and vote on your favorite song.
'Chain of Fools'
'(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman'
'Bridge Over Troubled Water'
'Until You Come Back to Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do)'
'Freeway of Love'
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