Growing up as the daughter of a Baptist minister, the late Aretha Franklin was heavily inspired by gospel music as she reached iconic status in the 1960s and 1970s through hits such as “Respect,” “I Say a Little Prayer,” and “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman.” While she lived a glamorous life as the “Queen of Soul,” Franklin also had what was described as a difficult childhood, as she already had two children by the age of 15 and had a supposedly turbulent relationship with her first husband and onetime manager. And as her unofficial biography further alleged, Aretha’s father, Clarence “C.L.” Franklin, had some secrets of his own in the form of the “wild” orgies he purportedly held at his church.
Citing the pages of David Ritz’s 2014 Aretha Franklin biography, Respect, the Mirror wrote that some of the biggest names in R&B and soul had witnessed or taken part in the orgies that were allegedly organized by the elder Franklin. The late Ray Charles, who co-wrote the autobiography Brother Ray with Ritz, was one of those well-known names, as he told the author about how the supposed orgies were so wild that even he himself was shocked by them.
“When it came to pure sex, they were wilder than me – and that’s saying something. In those days I had a thing for orgies, but I had to be the only cat in the room with two or three chicks.”
Charles also suggested that the orgies included a lot of homosexual activity between “gospel people,” a claim that was seconded by another departed musical legend, Billy Preston, who recalled a “wide open” vibe when these alleged activities took place.
“It was anything goes. In the community outside the church, gay men were called sissies. But inside the church, a lot of the music was created by gay men.”
As further noted by the Mirror, Aretha Franklin had a close relationship with her father, which might have contributed to how the Queen of Soul was “introduced to adulthood” at an early point in her life. While she was only 12-years-old when she allegedly had a relationship with soul legend Sam Cooke, who was then 23, it was a school friend named Donald Burk who reportedly fathered her first child, Clarence, who was born shortly thereafter. Franklin also had three other sons, Edward, Ted, Jr., and Kecalf, and was married twice, first to Ted White, Sr. from 1961 to 1969, then to actor Glynn Turman from 1978 to 1984.
David Ritz, who was also well-known for his biographies of other soul and R&B icons such as Marvin Gaye and Etta James, wrote Respect in 2014, about 15 years after he and Aretha Franklin worked together on the singer’s official memoir, From These Roots. While Respect included many details that were left out of the older book, Franklin publicly denounced the book, calling Ritz’s newer account “full of lies,” according to a report from Fox News.