11 Times Aretha Franklin Made Awards Show History

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The Aretha Franklin biopic Respect, starring Jennifer Hudson, opens this weekend — following weeks of buildup. Much of Franklin’s life played out at awards shows, where she was a frequent nominee, winner and performer and even an occasional host.

Franklin died in 2018, but her presence has continued to be felt at awards shows. Aretha! A Grammy Celebration for the Queen of Soul, which aired in 2019, was nominated for two Emmys (winning one). Cynthia Erivo is a current Emmy nominee for playing Franklin in the limited series Genius: Aretha. Hudson, the star of Respect, has a good chance of becoming an Oscar nominee for best actress.

Here are 11 times the Queen of Soul made awards show history.

Feb. 29, 1968 – Won the first Grammy ever awarded for best rhythm & blues solo vocal performance, female for the immortal “Respect.”  The classic hit brought Franklin  a second award that year: best rhythm & blues recording.

March 16, 1971 – Performed her gospel-imbued cover version of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” on the first live Grammy telecast. Franklin’s single, newly released at the time, would go on to win best R&B vocal performance, female the following year. (The Temptations presented her with the award.)

March 1, 1975 – Won the Grammy for best R&B vocal performance, female for the eighth consecutive year for her cover version of the Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell hit “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing.” That eight-year streak is, to this day, the longest Grammy winning streak by any artist in any category. The award was presented by another icon, David Bowie, who Franklin excitedly kissed when she got to the stage. Franklin blurted out, “Wow, this is so good, I could kiss David Bowie.” Realizing some might interpret that as a dis at the gender-bending star, Franklin interrupted herself mid-sentence and said: “I mean that in a beautiful way, because we did.” The fact that she felt compelled to correct such a relatively minor gaffe says a lot about her.

Jan. 27, 1986 — Won favorite soul/R&B female vocalist at the American Music Awards for a record fourth time. She stood alone as the category leader until Mariah Carey tied her in 2005. (The current category champ is Rihanna, with seven wins.) Franklin also co-hosted the AMAs in 1976 and 1983. Franklin accepted the 1986 award, one of two she won that night, live via satellite from Detroit. The most striking thing about her 1986 acceptance speech is that she choked up when she accepted the award in memory of her father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin, who had died 18 months previously.

Jan. 21, 1987 – Became first female artist to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Keith Richards did the honors. Franklin was coming off a big hit with a cover version of The Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” Richards had produced and played lead guitar on Franklin’s recording.

Feb. 22, 1989 – Became the first female artist to amass 15 Grammys in competition when she won best soul gospel performance, female for One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism. Franklin went on to win three more Grammys in competition. Her tally of 18 awards currently puts her in third place among female artists, behind Beyoncé (28) and Alison Krauss (27).

Dec. 3, 1994 – Received the Kennedy Center Honors at age 52, making her the youngest recipient to that point. Stevie Wonder, LL Cool J and violinist Midori currently share that distinction (as individual honorees); they were all honored at age 49. Franklin was also one of the first artists primarily known for R&B to receive the honor. (Ray Charles had received the award in 1986.)

Feb. 25, 1998 – Filled in for an ailing Luciano Pavarotti to sing “Nessun Dorma” from the Puccini opera Turandot at the 40th annual Grammy Awards. Franklin had sung the piece at the MusiCares person of the year gala two nights earlier, but until Pavarotti’s throat problems caused him to cancel, she had no idea she’d be performing it on TV. Her performance, on a night she also sang “Respect,” doubtless prompted millions of TV viewers to say, “That woman can sing anything.”

Feb. 8, 2008 – Honored as MusiCares’ person of the year, having already received a Grammy legend award and a lifetime achievement award from the Recording Academy. Franklin and Streisand are the only artists to have received all three of these honors. (Quincy Jones received a Grammy legend award, the person of the year honor and a trustees award, which is equivalent to a lifetime achievement award for people whose contributions are primarily behind-the-scenes.)

Feb. 14, 2008 – Six days later, while out in California, Franklin receives the rarely given vanguard award at the 39th annual NAACP Image Awards, which was held at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. The Sounds of Blackness and reigning American Idol champ Jordin Sparks performed her songs in tribute. (Franklin had received their Hall of Fame award in 1997.)

Dec. 6, 2015 – Franklin, 73, made President Obama teary-eyed and honoree Carole King ecstatic when she performed her 1967 classic “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” (which King co-wrote) at the Kennedy Center Honors.

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