Entertainment Celebrity Teen motherhood led Aretha Franklin to a life of ‘silent suffering’
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Teen motherhood led Aretha Franklin to a life of ‘silent suffering’

Aretha Franklin last performance
With months to live, Aretha Franklin performed at the Elton John AIDS Foundation gala in New York on November 7, 2017. Photo: Getty
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To Barack Obama, Aretha Franklin’s magic was obvious.

“Sometimes she just helped us just forget everything else and dance,” the former president posted to Instagram in a tribute after the singer’s death of pancreatic cancer on August 16 at the age of 76.

But despite her global fame, 44 Grammy nominations and millions of fans, Franklin craved “extreme privacy” and the one role she particularly kept private was that of mother.

The superstar had her first of four children at just 12 years of age.

Early motherhood was a conflicting experience, Franklin told Ebony in 1995.

“I still wanted to get out and hang out with my friends,” she said.

“I wanted to be in two places at the same time. But my grandmother helped me a lot, and my sister and my cousin. They would babysit so I could get out occasionally.”

Aretha Franklin young mother
Young mother Aretha Franklin in a record label photo in 1971. Photo: Getty

When she was six, the singer saw her parents Barbara Siggers Franlkin and Clarence LaVaughn Franklin separate, with her mother leaving the family reportedly because of her husband’s infidelity.

Barbara moved to Buffalo, New York, from Detroit, away from her children, then died before Aretha turned 10.

Decades later, another blow was dealt to the superstar when her Baptist preacher father was left in an irreversible coma in a 1979 botched robbery.

Franklin reportedly spent over $US500,000 ($687,000) on nurses for him for the next five years.

“She had a tough childhood,” Franklin’s biography ghost writer David Ritz told People magazine before her death.

“She put out a picture of her having a happy home and happy children and everything was rosy, and any stories to the contrary really got her mad.”

Aretha Franklin father sister
Aretha (centre) with father Clarence and sister Carolyn in 1971. Photo: Getty

Six years later, the future Queen of Soul became a mother herself when her oldest son Clarence, now 63, was born.

While Franklin never publicly identified her first two sons’ fathers, Ritz claimed in his 2015 book Respect that Clarence’s father was a schoolmate called Donald Burke.

“Aretha went back to school after having Clarence,” her eldest sister Erma said in Respect.

“She was an excellent student who did well in all her classes.”

But two years later, Franklin gave birth to second son Edward, now 61, and dropped out of school to concentrate on music.

The pressures of being a young mother and trying to launch a spotlit career led to a life of “silent suffering”, Erma, also a professional performer, said in the book.

“We were part of that generation of young female singers who definitely sacrificed time with our kids to attend to our careers.

“We did so knowingly. We also did so with heavy guilt.”

When she was 19, Franklin married Ted White and they welcomed son Ted “Teddy” White Jr, now 54, who played backup guitar for his mother.

The marriage ended in 1969, a year after a Time magazine story described how White “roughed her up” multiple times.

Franklin had her fourth son Kecalf to her road manager in 1970. His name is an acronym of his parent’s full names – Ken E Cunningham and Aretha Louise Franklin.

Aretha Franklin son Kecalf
The star’s son Kecalf sticks close as his mother marries Glynn Turman in Detroit in 1978. Photo: Getty

In a rare public family outing, Franklin was snapped in New York in May 2015, taking in a perfomance of Chicago with Kecalf and granddaughter Victorie Cunningham.

Aretha Kecalf Victorie
Franklin with son Kecalf and granddaughter Victorie in 2015. Photo: Getty

“We have lost the matriarch and rock of our family,” Franklin said in a statement after her death.

“We have felt your love for Aretha and it brings us comfort to know that her legacy will live on.”