Branding Lesson from the Queen of Soul - Aretha Franklin by The Brand Architect Rachel Quilty @ Jump the Q
Branding Lesson from the Queen of Soul – Aretha Franklin by The Brand Architect Rachel Quilty @ Jump the Q

Aretha Franklin’s voice was singular. It touched our heart and minds. Her name became synonymous with gospel and later soul music.

Reflecting on the expansive six-decade career of Aretha Franklin, it is important to recognise that you do not survive the entertainment industry without a sustainable signature personal brand. There are many branding lessons we can draw from this every day “natural woman” who claimed she was “just the lady next door” when off stage and who is universally accepted as a remarkable talent when singing, as highlighted by the significant soul-defining moments shared below:

1. Become a Name

In Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine article New Again – Aretha Franklin in 2012, records how her premiere single with Atlantic, “Never Loved a Man,” exploded over the airwaves in February 1967. It also identified how quickly the listening audience recognised her as a defining voice of the era; “The first day of its release, amazed people asked each other, “Have you heard that woman?” By the second day, everyone was calling her by name—Aretha.”

Aretha was comfortable with her unique voice and be 1972 was confident in her abilities and style and when asked by journalist Pat Hackett for Interview magazine, about who she was styling herself along the lines of…? Franklin responded, “Aretha. But yes, I had early influences—Clara Ward, James Cleveland.”

Franklin was one of the first singers to be identified by her first name only, “Aretha” identifying the depth of her personal brand name awareness across genres, gender, ethnicity and generations.

Later the Rolling Stone magazine, would named Franklin; No.1 in their 2013 list of the 100 greatest singers.

2. The Musical Footprint

Kelly Clarkson recent tweet acknowledges that Franklin had an ability to connect deep with her song and express this within her music. This was a signature that later singers would aspire to. In Clarkson’s tribute she says, “Aretha Franklin is the reason why I sing from that part deep inside of me that few could ever reach. She was my favorite and will always be. What a gift she has left all of us with her musical footprints. There will never be another like her. She was truly special. #QueenOfSoul.”

Other artists and singers have noted the instrument that Franklin’s voice truly was. In Interview magazine, Hackett mentions, Barbra Streisand in her 1977 Playboy interview said she wished she could hit the notes that you can.” Franklin went on to correct Hackett when asked, “It was often said you had a four-octave voice. Is that still true?” Franklin responded “Five”.

The Star noted in an Oprah interview that her voice register and quality altered with her weight and “her ideal singing weight was one hundred and sixty pounds”.

Aretha Franklin Quotes

More recently the Recording Academy commented on Aretha Franklin’s Passing that she was “one of the most profound voices in music”.

3. The Break Out Number

Rolling Stones magazine, identified Franklin’s breakout number in February 1967 was “Respect,”. This would become Franklin’s career-defining crossover R & B anthem which would make her an international pop star. The song reached No. 1 on the Billboard pop chart and won Franklin two Grammys. It would also be the opening track on her breakthrough album, “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You.”

In 1987, Franklin scored the second Number One pop hit of her career— “I Knew You Were Waiting (for Me),” a duet with George Michael—which came exactly 20 years after she topped the charts with “Respect.”

4. The Talented Artist

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame noted Franklin’s professionalism, talent and artistry.

 “Franklin had been performing “Respect” at her live shows even before she signed with Atlantic Records. “She walked in with this,” Atlantic producer Jerry Wexler told Matt Dobkin, author of I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You: Aretha Franklin, Respect, and the Making of a Soul Music Masterpiece. “Aretha was terrific at setting up a song the way she wanted it to go. Many of the songs she would bring in – basically the cake was in the oven; all you had to do was bake it. She would work out the rhythm part, the piano arrangement, she worked out her vocals, she’d bring in her backup singers. When they came in singing ‘Respect,’ they had the whole template.”

In the article, ‘New Again: Aretha Franklin’, Hackett discusses the Franklin’s genius.

” HACKETT: Jerry Wexler said that you and Ray Charles were the only two geniuses he could think of. Who do you regard as a genius?

FRANKLIN: In music? I know people I feel are extremely talented, but I don’t know that I’ve ever heard any geniuses.

HACKETT: You’ve never felt that you were hearing an inspired work of genius?

FRANKLIN: Not that I recall. Just very talented people.

HACKETT: So do you think that Jerry Wexler was excessive in calling you a genius?

FRANKLIN: [laughs] Well, what is this? If Jerry wants to say it, then let Jerry say it!”

Wexler wasn’t alone in recognising the duets genius, as Coca -Cola must have thought the same as they engaged both Ray Charles / Aretha Franklin as a duet in their second 1969 commercials – ‘Things Go Better with Coke”.

Out of an array of influences both sacred and secular, Franklin spear headed a contemporary fusion that would speak to the Sixties generation in the revolutionary new language of soul music. As Jerry Wexler, Aretha’s long-time producer, observed: “Clearly, Aretha was continuing what Ray Charles had begun—the secularization of gospel, turning church rhythms, church patterns and especially church feelings into personalized love songs.”

Franklin appeared on the cover of TIME in 1968, making her only its second female African American cover star at the time with a story that commended the “fierce, gritty conviction” of her voice. TIME noted, “She does not seem to be performing so much as bearing witness to a reality so simple and compelling that she could not possibly fake it.”

Queen of Soul – Aretha Franklin – Break Out Song #Respect

5. RESPECT – The Queen of Music

Reflecting on the life and career of Franklin we can only agree with Clive Davis when in accepting Aretha’s Induction into the Hall of Fame, claimed she “was the not just the Queen of Soul but the Queen of Music.”

Personally, branding herself as the “Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin is regarded as one of the most influential female artists of all time.

Enjoy this #Apple #iTunes #PlayList

#RESPECT – Inspiring a Future Generation

Franklin continues to inspire in her autobiographical movie RESPECT released in August 2021 starring #JenniferHudson. Hudson was approached by Franklin to portray herself ten years prior to the final release of her long-awaited movie.

The Pulitzer Prize Jury in 2019 awarded Franklin a posthumous Special Citation for her indelible contribution to American #music and #culture for more than five decades”.

  • Brand Yourself like Aretha Franklin.

Stand Out… Be an Agent of #Change … Be #TheVoice of a generation. Do what others think you can’t… To make your MARK you will need to stand out. Do something different.

Grab your free brand blueprint, workbook & journal by The Brand Architect, @RachelQuilty

Improving your personal brand is an investment in building your personal profile, reputation and the results you will achieve. And deserve to achieve. ‘ #RachelQuilty

Improving your personal brand is an investment in building your personal profile, reputation and the results you will achieve. And deserve to achieve. Rachel Quilty

Grab your #Free Brand #Journal & #Workbook by #RachelQuilty

Share Your Favourite #Aretha Song, Moment or Quote

In 2020, she was inducted into the American National Women’s Hall of Fame.  Aretha will forever be synonymous with #SoulMusic. Some #ArethaFranklin #Quotes:

“Sometimes, what you’re looking for is already there.”  Aretha Franklin