Inside Aretha Franklin's Complicated Family History
Aretha Franklin’s prolific musical career will no doubt live on for centuries to come, but there’s another legacy she leaves in her wake: that of her large family.
Born a preacher’s daughter to father Clarence and her musical mother Barbara, who passed away when Aretha was just shy of 10, the Queen of Soul grew up with sisters Erma and Carolyn (both of whom were also professional singers), and brothers Cecil and Vaughn.
Aretha wed for the first time at 19, but not before delivering two of her four children. Aretha reportedly gave birth to her first child when she was just 12 years old, welcoming a boy named after her father, Clarence. (The father was reportedly a boy she knew from school named Donald Burk.) Just two years later, Aretha birthed her second son, Edward, named after his father Edward Jordan. Both children were given Franklin’s maiden name.
Franklin’s first husband (who also served as her manager) Ted White, fathered the singer’s third child, Ted Jr. (a musician known professionally at Teddy Richards) in 1964. Aretha and Ted’s marriage ended in 1969 following reports of domestic abuse. Following the divorce, Franklin’s brother Cecil stepped in as her manager, a post he maintained until his death 20 years later.
Not long after her split from White, Aretha delivered her fourth son, Kecalf, that of her road manager Ken Cunningham.
A decade later, Franklin wed her second husband, actor Glynn Turman.
Shortly after her second wedding, Aretha’s father was shot in his Detroit home by an intruder. Reverend Franklin spent the next (and final) five years of his life in a coma.
Aretha and Glynn divorced the same year of her father’s death, in 1984.
Though Franklin never married a third time, she’s been closely linked to “forever friend” and businessman Willie Wilkerson since the late ‘80s. The pair announced their engagement in early 2012, but called off the wedding weeks later after deciding things “were moving too fast.”
It’s unclear whether Aretha and Willie remained romantically involved after calling off their engagement, but they’ve stepped out together many times in the years past.