Years before she became the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin began her career in music singing gospel. Her first album, released in 1956, when she was just 18 (and already the mother of two sons), was called 'Songs of Faith.'
"She's a woman full of deep religious faith," said Franklin's longtime friend, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, earlier this week, when it was revealed that the 68-year-old singer has pancreatic cancer. Long before her current diagnosis, the phenomenally gifted Aretha -- once hailed as a "natural resource" in a ceremony marking her 25th year of performing -- has needed her faith to withstand a disproportionate amount of familial suffering.
Born in Memphis in 1942 to the well-known Baptist minister C.L. Franklin and the former Barbara Siggers (a gospel pianist and singer called one of the best in the country by no less an authority than Mahalia Jackson), Aretha Louise Franklin was the fifth of six children. The family moved to Buffalo, N.Y., then Detroit, when she was young. In addition to his four children with Barbara Franklin (who had a son from a previous marriage), C.L. fathered a child with a 13-year-old from his congregation.
In 1952, four years after the Franklins separated, Aretha's mother died of a heart attack at the age of 34. C.L. Franklin, who later befriended Martin Luther King, Jr., and was recognized as a civil rights organizer, did not attend the funeral.
In June 1979, C.L. -- known as the "Million Dollar Voice" from his days as a widely broadcast radio preacher -- was shot at point-blank range in an apparent burglary attempt in his Detroit home. He lived five years in a coma before dying in 1984.
Four years later, the youngest Franklin sibling, Carolyn, who had worked as a backup singer for Aretha but never achieved much success as a solo act, died of breast cancer at age 44. Aretha's brother, Cecil, who served as her manager, died of a heart attack in 1989. He was 49. Sister Erma, who had her own minor hit with the original version of 'Piece of My Heart' (later a signature song for Janis Joplin), died of cancer in 2002 at age 64.