How Life-Long Philanthropist & Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin Used Her Voice to Change the World

Year by year, we’re losing our greats. Yesterday, we lost another one – the legendary Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin succumbed to pancreatic Cancer at 76 years old.  She is known for her soulful and hypnotic voice that Former President Barack Obama called, “America’s history wells up when Aretha sings.”  Not to mention she’s given women anthems like “Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves” and “Respect”.  What a lot of people don’t know about Aretha is that she was hugely philanthropic giving to a range of causes that support children, the arts, the environment, organizations providing health care access, and veterans to name a few.

She was especially giving during the winter holiday season in her hometown of Detroit, Michigan.  She donated to food pantries and her late father’s church. Then, when the neighborhood around the church struggled to accommodate the homeless and locals who couldn’t make their own food, she and the church provided free cooked Thanksgiving dinners to thousands at her Thanksgiving Gospel Music Feast which also brought gospel’s greatest stars to perform.

When it comes to social justice, she’s also been right there near its pulse – appearing on stages with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Former President Barack Obama.  She’s provided bail for leaders like Angela Davis when they were being branded as terrorists by our government.  There’s so much more to know about this great artist, woman and philanthropist.

Check out this list from Global Citizen that highlights, “4 Ways Aretha Franklin Fought for a Better World”:

  1. WOMEN’S RIGHTSIn an era when respect was not universally received in the US, Franklin’s rousing version of “Respect,” first recorded by Otis Redding, was an electrifying call to action. The unflinching demand for respect became a mantra for both the women’s rights and civil rights movements.

    Released in the 1970s, the song radically overturned gender conventions by situating a woman as the primary breadwinner in a family and fiercely challenged sexist assumptions.

    Franklin’s song “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves” was another feminist anthem, envisioning a world where women everywhere can break free from the constraints of a sexist society.

    “Now this is a song to celebrate,” the lyrics read. “The conscious liberation of the female state! / Mothers, daughters, and their daughters, too. / Woman to woman / We’re singin’ with you. / The inferior sex got a new exterior / We got doctors, lawyers, politicians, too.”

    “American history wells up when Aretha sings,” Obama said in 2015. “Nobody embodies more fully the connection between the African-American spiritual, the blues, R&B, rock and roll – the way that hardship and sorrow were transformed into something full of beauty and vitality and hope.”


    Franklin’s father was a committed civil rights activist, and she frequently lent her growing fame and stature to the movement.The soul singer regularly performed at civil rights events and was there to support Martin Luther King Jr. during his rallies. She was eventually awarded the Southern Christian Leadership Award for her dedicated work by King. When King was assassinated in 1968, Franklin performed at his funeral.

    When the civil rights leader Angela Davis was arrested in 1970 and falsely branded a “terrorist” by President Richard Nixon, Franklin announced her intention to post the $250,000 bail, one of many times where she financially supported black activists.

    In 2008, the NAACP honored Franklin for both her advocacy and her music with their annual Vanguard Award.


    The Queen of Soul has also supported charities such as Feeding America, which funds more than 200 foodbanks nationwide, and the Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes, which specializes in diabetes research.Franklin lived with diabetes throughout her life and wanted to make sure other people would have the health care access that they needed.

    “I feel wonderful, I’ve got more energy, I’ve changed my diet, going to Whole Foods now, getting the best stuff,” she said after recovering from a hospital stay in 2012 on The View. “Dropped the chitlins, drop the ham hocks, getting some — I won’t say better food, I’ll say other food.”


    Throughout her career, Franklin regularly helped causes she cared about to raise more money through fundraising events.In 2012, she attended a gala for the Rainforest Fund, which seeks to protect human rights in the Amazon Rainforest. The next year she lent her voice to a Christmas album whose proceeds went to the Special Olympics. In 2017, Franklin was a headlining act for The Elton John AIDS Foundation New York Gala, which went on to raise $4.4 million.

    “Being the Queen is not all about singing, and being a diva is not all about singing,” she said of her fame. “It has much to do with your service to people. And your social contributions to your community and your civic contributions as well.”


Latoya Henry is the publisher and founder of Haute Giving: The Sexy Side of Philanthropy.
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