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Aretha Franklin Through the Lens of Food (1942-2018)

Aretha Franklin Through the Lens of Food (1942-2018)

Aretha Franklin in 1967, Courtesy of the New York Public Library

Aretha Franklin in 1967, Courtesy of the New York Public Library

Today we share a story on the culinary life of Aretha Franklin in celebration of Women’s History Month.

Aretha Franklin (1942-2018) died today at the age of 76. The child of noted Baptist preacher Reverend C.L. Franklin and Barbara Siggers, she was born in Memphis, Tennessee but grew up in Detroit, Michigan. In Detroit, she made a name for herself as a soloist at her father's church choir. In her 20s she started recording both gospel and secular music.  She first signed with Columbia Records in New York and later with Atlantic Records. With Atlantic Franklin created one hit song after the other earning her the nickname the Queen of Soul. Few have looked at Franklin’s life and career through the lens of food.  For example, she incorporated food into creative process consuming fried chicken and biscuits during long days of writing and recording what she called great greasy music. Her mother’s absence left her with an emptiness that food could never fill. The late singer Luther Vandross shared Franklin's love and struggle with a food addiction. He says they bonded over sweet and savory dishes. Apparently food had been as important to their creation of duets as the soulful music they sang together. Like Vandross, Franklin used food to cope with stressors on her life and love relationships gone sour. She loved to eat at Red Lobster and Wendy’s and she could cook.  Chicken Italiano served as one of her favorite dishes to prepare and we know that she demonstrated one of her recipes as a guest on the Martha Stewart Show and on Oprah.[1]

Aretha Franklin’s Chicken Italiano Recipe

Serves 4


4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

1 chicken (3 1/2 to 4 pounds), rinsed, patted dry, and cut into 8 serving pieces

2 cans (15 ounces each) tomato sauce

3 sprigs fresh rosemary, needles removed

1/4 teaspoon garlic salt

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper


Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper; add to pan. Cook until browned on all sides, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in tomato sauce, rosemary needles, and garlic salt; turn chicken to coat. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook until chicken is cooked through and tender, about 40 minutes.

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Interview with Aretha Franklin on Fresh Air

[1] For more on Franklin see, Mark Bego, Aretha Franklin: The Queen of Soul (New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2012); David Ritz, Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin (Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 2016).

Fred Opie with Andrew Clarke

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