This Aretha Franklin Reading List Is The Best Of Writing By Her & About Her

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By Kerri Jarema

Grammy Award winning soul singer Aretha Franklin died on Thursday at age 76. News broke earlier this week that Franklin was "gravely ill" with pancreatic cancer, prompting an outpouring of love and well-wishes from fans and celebrities alike — even Beyonce and Jay-Z dedicated their Aug. 13 concert to the Queen of Soul. Franklin's career began in 1956 and spanned multiple decades, and she sang iconic hits like "Respect," "Chain of Fools" and "I Say A Little Prayer."

Franklin began her career as a child singing gospel at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, where her father was minister. It wasn't until the age of 18 that she embarked on her now legendary music career, when she left her native Detroit and moved to New York. There, she struggled for years to find her place in the industry. Her fortune — and ours! — finally changed in 1967 when "Respect" was released.

Franklin was an 18-time Grammy award winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee — the first woman ever to receive the honor — among many other accolades. She continued to perform steadily (including a much-talked about appearance at former President Barack Obama's 2009 inauguration) until she retired from music in 2017. Below is some required reading if you want to learn more about the fascinating life of the iconic singer, from biographies to poems and features that celebrate the legacy she leaves behind:

'Aretha Franklin: The Queen of Soul' by Mark Bego

Mark Bego’s definitive biography traces Franklin's career accomplishments from her beginnings as a 12-year-old member of a church choir in the early 1950s to signing a major recording contract at 18, and far beyond. The book includes in-person interviews with record producers Jerry Wexler, Clyde Otis, and Clive Davis, Aretha’s first husband, several of her singing star contemporaries, and a rare one-on-one session with Aretha herself.

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'Aretha: From These Roots' by Aretha Franklin with David Ritz

This 1999 autobiography is the only Franklin autobiography and in it she tells her story with refreshing candor. From her years as a child prodigy of the golden age of gospel, to becoming the Queen of Soul, Franklin gets up-close and personal about her career, her upbringing in Detroit, her life as a single teenage mother, and coping with two challenging marriages.

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'Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin' by David Ritz

Despite having worked with Ritz to write her 1999 memoir, Franklin took issue with this unauthorized biography. It's an in-depth look at her life, and it examines her relationships with her father and four siblings, as well as her two sons, which she left in Detroit when she embarked on her singer career in New York at age 18.

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'The Voice Of God: A Poem for Aretha Franklin' by Crystal Williams

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"when she opens her mouth
our world swells like dawn on the pond
when the sun licks the water & the jay garbles,
the whole quiet thing coming into tune,"

Read the entire poem at

'Soul Survivor: The Revival and Hidden Treasure of Aretha Franklin' by David Remnick in 'The New Yorker'

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Remnick's profile opens:

"Late on a winter night, Aretha Franklin sat in the dressing room of Caesars Windsor Hotel and Casino, in Ontario. She did not wear the expression of someone who has just brought boundless joy to a few thousand souls."

This 2016 piece in The New Yorker explores Franklin's upbringing, her perfectionism on stage, and the history behind some of her most famous songs.

'The Fan Who Knew Too Much: Aretha Franklin, the Rise of the Soap Opera, Children of the Gospel Church, and Other Meditations' by Anthony Heilbut

Anthony Heilbut is a Grammy-winning record producer famous for his work with gospel music. In The Fan Who Knew Too Much, he shares eight essays about his love of soul music and other pop culture obsessions, taking the reader on a broad journey through American culture, including his profiles on the life and work of Aretha Franklin. If you want a fan perspective on Franklin and to get a more clear understanding of the history of soul music, this is a great book.

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'Amazing Grace' by Aaron Cohen

This portrait of Franklin focuses on the recording of her album, Amazing Grace. For two days in January 1972, Aretha Franklin sang at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles while tape recorders and film cameras rolled. Five years after ascending to soul royalty and commercial success, Franklin was publicly returning to her religious roots. Franklin responded to the occasion with the performance of her life. Through new interviews, analyses and archival discoveries, this book sets the scene and describes the album’s enduring impact.

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