Aretha Franklin: A Bibliography

 

Aretha Franklin has died. In her lifetime, the musical giant inspired a trove of books about or inspired by her outsized legacy. In tribute, we offer this bibliography of recommended titles linked to their excerpted Booklist reviews—a small fraction of the books in which Franklin appears as a key figure in Black history, Civil Rights history, rock music, soul music, and gospel.

 

Biography / Memoir

Aretha: From These Roots, by Aretha Franklin and David Ritz

The Queen of Soul tells the story of her life with grace and dignity, glad for the opportunity to correct erroneous assumptions about her past. Coauthor Ritz—an old hand at this genre, having written books with Ray Charles, Etta James, and B. B. King—is the perfect accompanist, allowing Franklin’s speaking voice, an instrument almost as powerful as her singing voice, to flow freely.

 

Aretha Franklin: The Queen of Soul, by Mark Bego

Bego’s thorough knowledge and unwavering enthusiasm in chronicling Franklin’s extraordinary career and shadowed life coalesce in a definitive and irresistible biography. Chatty and caring, he offers energetic analysis of Franklin’s enormously influential hits (“Respect,” “Natural Woman”), wildly varied albums, legendary concerts, and bewildering fashion faux pas. Drawing on dozens of interviews with producers, musicians, and others in her circle, Bego delineates the genius of Franklin’s musicality as a singer, pianist, and arranger, marveling at her prolificacy and versatility in performing R&B, jazz, rock, gospel, and opera.

 

Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin, by David Ritz

Franklin was steadfast in protecting her image and her secrets, even in her biography, From These Roots (1999), ghostwritten by Ritz. Some 15 years later, this is his unauthorized attempt to get at the elusive Franklin, the one who so skillfully hid her pain in her music. Drawing on previous work and interviews with those close to Franklin, Ritz offers a portrait of a woman for whom faith and respect are essential.

 

Music Studies

Aretha Franklin’s Amazing Grace, by Aaron Cohen

Cohen, winner of the ASCAP Deems Taylor Award, tells the full story of Aretha Franklin’s innovative, even daring Amazing Grace.Writing with the confidence and fluency born of deep knowledge and drawing on remarkably fruitful interviews, Cohen chronicles key moments in Franklin’s creative life, beginning with her first recording session in a Detroit church in 1956, at which the already hard-pressed 14-year-old daughter of the famous Reverend C. L. Franklin sang with surprisingly “rough fervor and conviction.” Widening the lens, Cohen presents an incisive history of black gospel music and its tradition of protest and empowerment. In all, an electrifying appreciation of Franklin and her magnificent voice, musicality, artistic vision, and courage.

 

I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You: Aretha Franklin, Respect, and the Creation of a Soul Music Masterpiece, by Matt Dobkin

Among the greatest singing voices ever recorded, Aretha Franklin’s is so distinctive that the fact that the album that made her a star was her tenth is just dumbfounding. Dobkin gets seemingly every living soul responsible for Franklin’s epoch-making album (save Aretha herself) to impart his or her perspective on its making. This involves much more than a track-by-track account of the recording sessions. Dobkin exuberantly, but never quite gushingly, relates Franklin’s earlier life, other involvements, and the civil rights impact, for women as well as blacks, of the album’s biggest hit, “Respect.”

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About the Author:

Eugenia Williamson is the former Associate Editor of Digital Products at Booklist.

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