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.”
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.”
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.
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.
“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.”
Let’s all take a moment to give thanks for the beautiful life of Aretha Franklin, the Queen of our souls, who inspired us all for many many years. She will be missed but the memory of her greatness as a musician and a fine human being will live with us forever. Love Paul pic.twitter.com/jW4Gpwfdts
— Paul McCartney (@PaulMcCartney) August 16, 2018
Aretha helped define the American experience. In her voice, we could feel our history, all of it and in every shade—our power and our pain, our darkness and our light, our quest for redemption and our hard-won respect. May the Queen of Soul rest in eternal peace. pic.twitter.com/bfASqKlLc5
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 16, 2018
Mourning the loss today of @ArethaFranklin who shared her spirit and talent with the world. She deserves not only our RESPECT but also our lasting gratitude for opening our eyes, ears and hearts. Rest in eternal peace, my friend.
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) August 16, 2018