Reflection on Soul Singers after Aretha's Death

Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin. AFP PHOTO 

The death of Aretha Franklin last week at the age of 76 is a reminder of pioneer female soul singers who have maintained a dominant presence through more than five decades of music. In her tribute, one of these remarkable singers, Gladys Knight said Aretha “set the standard for every single lady to rise to.”

So distinct are each one of these gospel-reared voices of the singers inspired by the “Queen of Soul” that their careers have endured through generations of music fans. While Aretha Franklin was the premier soul music queen, her passing is also a moment to reflect on the living legends that along with her have been the faces and the voices of soul music through the years.

Diana Ross

“The Boss” as she is known, complete with the trademark big hair and bold sense of fashion, was one of the biggest stars of the golden era of Motown Records in the 1960s along with her group The Supremes. She branched out for a solo career in 1970 and recorded a steady stream of hits transcending the different eras, from her rendition of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” to the disco oriented favourites “Upside Down” and “I’m Coming Out.”

Her 1980 collaboration with Lionel Richie, “Endless Love” was named by music industry magazine Billboard as ‘the greatest song duet of all time.’


In a career spanning more than five decades, Ross has enjoyed 18 US number one songs, sold 100 million record sales, and won a host of honours including a Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2012.

She still headlining concerts at 74 and just this month had a number one single on the Billboard Dance Chart with a remix of her classic hits “I’m Coming Out/Upside Down”. Nelson Mandela referred to her as “someone who always seems to be running, never walking, she is an inspiration to us all.”

Gladys Knight

She is another golden female voice whose career harks back to the Motown era when she recorded with her brother and two cousins, The Pips. The “Empress of Soul” is one of the all time greats with over half a century of pop, gospel and R&B classics including the timeless “Midnight Train to Georgia” and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” The seven-time Grammy winner who is 74 this year recorded her first album in 1960 when she was just 16 and made her name after signing up to Motown Records in 1966.

She still maintains a busy touring schedule with performance dates lined up right into 2019.

Dionne Warwick

This leading lady of soul is a five-time Grammy winner and has enjoyed a stellar career for more than five decades. She began singing professionally in 1961 and had her first hit a year later with “Don’t Make Me Over.”

Since then she has recorded a string of timeless songs notably “Walk On By” “Anyone who had a Heart”, “Say a Little Prayer” (also famously recorded by Aretha Franklin) and “A House is Not a Home”.

Her career flourished right into the 1980s when she hit the charts with the Bee Gees produced song “Heartbreaker” and recorded the collaboration “That’s What Friends Are For” along with Stevie Wonder, Elton John and Gladys Knight.

The 77-year-old who is also an aunt to the late Whitney Houston recently announced that she was recording a new album to be released later this year.

Roberta Flack

One of the most enduring African American female voices and an artist whose talent has transcended pop, soul, folk & jazz. Her skills on the piano, which she began playing at nine, earned her a full scholarship to Howard University at age 15.

Her signature song is the timeless Grammy Award winning “Killing Me Softly With His Song” recorded in 1973.

She was the first singer to win the coveted Grammy Record of the Year two years running.

Other legendary soul sisters who are still actively recording and touring include Chaka Khan “Queen of Funk” who at 65 has just released her first new music in ten years and 74-year-old Patti Labelle “Godmother of Soul” who still tours and released her latest album in 2017. Aretha Franklin towered over the music landscape for more than 50 years, and her legacy lives on in her contemporaries who will continue to inspire a younger generation of singers to take on the mantle for soul music into the future.