30 Years Ago: Aretha Franklin Becomes First Woman Inducted Into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
On Jan. 3, 1987, Aretha Franklin was the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It was an important first for the Hall, which was already suffering a bit of an image problem due to its perceived gender gap — a criticism that continues to haunt it.
In 1986, when the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced its first group of inductees, the conspicuous problem with it was the complete absence of women among the 10 names, which included Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, James Brown, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke and the Everly Brothers.
The following year, Franklin’s induction would kick open the door for other women while solidifying her reputation as the Queen of Soul and one of the most powerful voices in music.
Franklin began performing on the Midwest gospel music circuit as a kid and made her first recording when she was only 14. But her pop music recording career began when she signed a deal in 1961 with Columbia Records. Her career reached even greater heights when she signed with Atlantic in 1967.
By the end of the ’60s Franklin was at her peak — with hits including a career-defining cover of Otis Redding’s “Respect,” as well as “Chain of Fools” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” — and had become an African-American icon during the era’s turbulent battles over civil rights for minorities and women. She sang “God Bless America” at the 1977 inauguration of President Jimmy Carter and continued to perform and record both soul and gospel music into the 21st century.
In 1985, Franklin returned to the top of the charts with the Who’s Zoomin’ Who? album, which featured the single “Freeway of Love,” as well as a collaboration with Eurythmics. The record became one of Franklin’s biggest-selling records. The follow-up, 1986’s Aretha, also reached the upper end of the charts and eventually went gold, and her duet with George Michael, “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me),” hit No. 1, her first since 1967, when “Respect” topped the pop chart.
In 1993, Franklin was invited to sing at the inauguration of Bill Clinton, and the following year she received both a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and Kennedy Center Honor.
In 2003, Franklin released her final studio album on Arista, So Damn Happy, and left the label to found Aretha Records. Two years later, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and became the second woman ever to be inducted into the U.K. Music Hall of Fame. In 2008, she received her 18th Grammy Award for “Never Gonna Break My Faith” — a collaboration with Mary J. Blige. (With 18 Grammys under her belt, Franklin is one of the most honored artists in Grammy history.) That same year she was tapped to sing at the 2009 presidential inauguration of Barack Obama.
Despite the trail Franklin has blazed, the Rock Hall still gets plenty of well-deserved flak for its gender gap. Since its inception, only a little more than three dozen female performers and bands with women have found their way to the Rock Hall, and none of the executives, managers and producers inducted have been women. Only one woman, Carole King, has been inducted for her songwriting.
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