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- Posted on Dec 10th 2010 4:30PM by James Sullivan
Carlos Osorio, AP
"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.
After giving birth out of wedlock to her first two sons when she was still a teenager, Aretha had her third son with her first husband (then also her manager), Ted White. Divorced from White, she gave birth to her fourth son in a relationship with her road manager, Ken Cunningham. The singer was also married for several years to the actor Glynn Turman; they had no children together.
All of Aretha's sons have fashioned careers in the music industry. Clarence, the oldest, has written songs for her; Ted White Jr. plays guitar in her band, and Kecalf Cunningham -- his name is an acronym of his father's and mother's initials – is a Christian rapper and producer.
Eddie Franklin, Aretha's second son, has recorded as a backup singer for his mother. Now in his 50s, he has endured more than his share of troubles. In September of this year, he was severely beaten in a mysterious gas-station confrontation in Detroit.
Eddie Franklin was also named as a "person of interest" (though he was never charged) in a suspicious 2002 fire at Aretha's house. At the time, his lawyer said the son needed special attention.
"Mrs. Franklin is very, very, very, very, very protective of him," said the attorney.