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Music style and image
Franklin has often been described as a great singer and musician due to “vocal flexibility, interpretive intelligence, skillful piano-playing, her ear, her experience.” Franklin’s voice has been described as being a “powerful mezzo-soprano voice” and has been praised for her arrangements and interpretations of other artists’ hit songs. Of describing Franklin’s voice as a youngster on her first album, Songs of Faith, released when she was just fourteen, Jerry Wexler explained that Franklin’s voice “was not that of a child but rather of an ecstatic hierophant.” Franklin’s image went through rapid changes throughout her career. During the 1960s, Franklin was known for wearing bouffant hairdos and extravagant dresses that were sometimes surrounded enveloped in either mink fur or feathers. In the 1970s, embracing her roots, Franklin briefly wore the Afro hairdo and wore Afrocentric styled clothing admired by her peers. In the mid-1970s, after dropping weight, Franklin began wearing slinkier attire. By the 1980s, she had settled on wearing nightgowns and extravagant dresses.
In 1987, Franklin was the first female performer inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Two years earlier, the Michigan government labeled her voice as a “natural resource”. Franklin received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1979. In 1994, she received a medal from the Kennedy Center Honors and that year won the NARAS Lifetime Achievement Award. She won the NARAS Grammy Legend award four years prior. In 1999, she earned the National Medal of Arts. In 2005, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Franklin was inducted to the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005, becoming the second female performer to be honored after Madonna. In 2008, she received the MusiCares Person of the Year prior to performing at that year’s Grammys. That same year, she was listed in the top 20 of artists on the Billboard Hot 100 all-time top artists list. In 2012, she was inducted to the GMA Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Franklin has been described as “the voice of the civil rights movement, the voice of black America” and a “symbol of black equality”. She was also listed as number 1 on Rolling Stone’s list of the Greatest Singers of All Time. In February 2011, following news of her surgery and recovery, the Grammy Awards paid tribute to the singer with a medley of her classics by singers such as Christina Aguilera, Florence Welch, Jennifer Hudson, Martina McBride and Yolanda Adams.
Following Luciano Pavarotti’s last-minute cancellation due to illness, with barely 20 minutes’ notice, Aretha Franklin stuns Grammy audience with soulful interpretation of Puccini’s aria from “Turandot”.