Aretha Franklin’s mother, Barbara Siggers Franklin, died of a heart attack at the age of 34 when Aretha Franklin was barely 10 years old.
Barbara Franklin died after a long and tumultuous family history with Aretha Franklin’s father.
Barbara Franklin’s death was one of many losses in the life of Aretha Franklin before her own passing at 76 from pancreatic cancer.
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Barbara Siggers Franklin died at the age of 34 in 1952 in Buffalo, New York. Aretha Franklin was just 10 at the time of her mother’s death and had already been living with her father C.L. Franklin in Detroit, Michigan.
The final resting place of Barbara Franklin is in Buffalo’s Forest Lawn Cemetery.
To her death and in her memoir, Aretha Franklin was staunchly protective of her mother against anyone that said her mother abandoned the family.
Aretha was fiercely traumatized by the death of her mother and said in her own book that she couldn’t even begin to try and describe the pain that her mother’s death caused. Aretha’s agent would say that Aretha was traumatized by a lot in her childhood.
News reports indicate that Aretha’s agent also said that the fact there was no warning to the death came as a tremendous shock that resulted in dark years that were comforted by music.
Aretha Franklin was born in Shelby, Mississippi, in 1942, to Clarence LaVaughn (C.L.) Franklin and Barbara Franklin, who were married in 1936. There were five children in the family, with one brother, Vaughn, who was born prior to the marriage of C.L. and Barbara.
He was adopted by C.L. Franklin upon the marriage.
Aretha was not the first recording artist of the family. C.L. Franklin was a famous reverend in his life, known for having a voice in a sermon that was recorded by Chess Records. Barbara was also musically gifted and known for her piano work in C.L.’s church, though her dream of being a recording artist did not quite reach the outcome that Aretha Franklin’s dream did.
Still, Barbara Franklin was described as a gospel singer in her own right and was portrayed by Tony winner and Broadway star Audra McDonald in the 2021 Aretha Franklin biopic called Respect. Barbara left her family and marriage to move to Buffalo in 1948.
Within the next four years, Aretha’s life would fall apart, although she did spend a lot of time visiting her mother in Buffalo when she could.
There is no question that Aretha Franklin lived a traumatized life, but as difficult as family life was, she loved both of her parents.
Her father was a renowned Baptist preacher, and her mother was involved in the church until the family estrangement.
When Barbara moved to Buffalo, New York, she took her first child Vaughn with her. Aretha and her three other siblings grew up with her father in Detroit but saw her mother when she could.
Aretha described the time as devastating and referred to her father’s violent temper frequently.
She also thought her father was a womanizer and expressed that many times over the course of her life. Her brother Cecil, older by two years, wrote a biography as well, saying the family estrangement broke her “little heart,” and that Aretha was the most impacted by the problem.
Although Aretha was fond of her father, her highest affections went to her mother. She often packed her bags days before she was scheduled to visit her in New York and reported crying about her often.
Aretha Franklin’s father was musical in some respects, but not the way Aretha Franklin was. He was called the Million Dollar Voice because he could produce sermons at the New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit that would shake walls and would later be heard on record across the nation.
C.L. Franklin was often paid as much as $4,000 to appear in front of an audience, and his most famous recordings were Dry Bones in the Valley and The Eagle Stirreth her Nest.
C.L. Franklin served the New Bethel Baptist Church in 1946 until his coma in 1979. Aretha’s father was shot in a home invasion in 1979 and afterward, he went into a five-year coma from which he did not survive.
A few years later, Aretha then lost her brother Cecil and sister Carolyn, who both died from cancer.
Before she was an adult, Aretha would sing and contribute to the gospel of her father’s church, but she had to get her father’s blessing to switch from gospel music to secular music. She did just that when she turned 18 years old.
Her father’s interest in recording was not as avid as hers, and he preferred to use his platform to help in the civil rights movement, using his Million Dollar Voice to aid Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963 during the freedom march on Detroit’s Woodward Avenue.
The notion that Aretha Franklin’s mother, Barbara Siggers Franklin, abandoned her family seemed to be perpetuated by the media and her estranged husband. It is not an idea that her children have supported publicly.
In Aretha Franklin’s biography, she makes it very clear her mother did not abandon the family and that her mother maintained her relationship with her children up until her death.
Cecil’s biography said the same thing. Cornell University professor Neil Salvatore who wrote a biography for C.L. Franklin also confirmed that abandonment of the family was not something the family would accuse Barbara of.
The family has been consistent on another notion, that her father did not lack for relationships after Barbara Franklin moved. The children would spend the summer holidays in Buffalo and be very happy to do so.
Additionally, Barbara Franklin would visit her children in Detroit as often as she could.
With a father called the Million Dollar Voice and a mother with dreams of gospel stardom, Aretha Franklin comes by her own million-dollar voice honestly. Her mother was even more musical than her father.
Mahalia Jackson heard Aretha Franklin’s mother sing and called her one of the best gospel singers in the country.
This is a high compliment – Mahalia Jackson was a gospel singer herself, with a voice that Martin Luther King Jr. was quite fond of. He would take her on tour, and it is rumored that Mahalia Jackson was the inspiration for his legacy-making “I have a dream” speech.
Barbara Franklin did not live long enough to have her dreams of stardom granted, but they were fulfilled in some respect through her beloved daughter Aretha Franklin. When Barbara moved to Buffalo, she worked in a music store and gave piano lessons to locals.
Those Buffalo locals today likely have wonderful piano lesson stories of the legacy that Barbara Franklin left for them, a legacy she may never have even known about.
Barbara Franklin was described by her family as a good mother until the day they passed on. She died of a heart attack in Buffalo, New York, at the age of 34, leaving behind a family of 5 traumatized children.
Despite national rumors that still continue today, Barbara did not abandon her family.
Aretha Franklin’s mother was a mother who loved her children and spent time with them as often as she could until she passed away. It was likely a pain that Aretha Franklin never ever got past.
Had you heard of Aretha Franklin’s mother, Barbara Franklin? What is it about her story that intrigues you the most?