In the mesmerizing world of music, talent often runs in the family, and behind the “Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin, stood a remarkable woman—her mother, Barbara Siggers Franklin. Renowned gospel singer Mahalia Jackson hailed Barbara as one of the finest gospel singers in the United States and a skilled pianist.
Early Life and Marriage
Barbara, born in Shelby, Mississippi, in 1917, tied the knot with pastor C.L. Franklin in 193Their union blessed them with four children: Erma, Cecil, Aretha, and Carolyn. The family journeyed through Memphis, Tennessee, Buffalo, New York, and finally settled in Detroit, Michigan.
A Harmony of Roles
Beyond being a wife and mother, Barbara actively participated in the musical affairs of Detroit’s New Bethel Baptist Church, where her husband preached. C.L. Franklin’s influence paved the way for Aretha to begin her singing career within the Gospel Caravan group.
Turbulence in Marriage
The marital journey of Barbara and C.L. Franklin faced turbulence, leading to their separation in 1948 due to C.L.’s infidelities. Barbara relocated to Buffalo, leaving her children in Detroit. Despite the separation, the couple never officially divorced.
Heartbreak and Healing
Barbara’s departure to Buffalo deeply affected Aretha, who, as described by her brother Cecil, had her heart broken. Aretha’s sister Caroline revealed her severe shyness and withdrawal during those times. Yet, Barbara’s absence did not imply abandonment; the siblings spent summers with her in Buffalo.
Memories in Buffalo
Aretha fondly recalled waiting for her mother on the porch after her work as a nurse’s aide at Meyer Memorial Hospital. Despite the challenges, Barbara, in her rocking chair, comforted her children about “better things to come.” Tragically, Barbara passed away from a massive heart attack in 1952 at the age of 34.
Grief and Resilience
Aretha’s autobiography, “From These Roots,” depicted the profound grief following her mother’s death. The pain lingered, and during her visits to Buffalo, Aretha continued to visit her mother’s grave at Forest Lawn cemetery.
Audra McDonald’s Portrayal
In the movie adaptation of “Respect,” Audra McDonald portrayed Barbara Siggers Franklin. McDonald, deeply moved by the role, emphasized the importance of telling Aretha’s story with nuance and respect. The portrayal earned McDonald a NAACP Image Award nomination.
As we reflect on the life of Barbara Siggers Franklin, we unveil the heart behind the “Queen of Soul.” Her legacy lives on through the timeless melodies of Aretha Franklin, echoing the strength and resilience forged in the crucible of love and loss.