Aretha Franklin Wins Posthumous 2019 Pulitzer Prize

Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, received the Pulitzer Prize Special Citation honor on Monday, the Pulitzer board announced. Franklin was given the award “for her indelible contribution to American music and culture for more than five decades,” the Pulitzer website states. She became the first individual woman to win the prize since the honor was first given in 1930, The Associated Press reported.

Franklin died at the age of 76-years-old on August 16 in her home in Detroit, Michigan, after a battle with pancreatic cancer. The last recipient of the special citation prize went to country music singer Hank Williams in 2010 “for his craftsmanship as a songwriter who expressed universal feelings with poignant simplicity and played a pivotal role in transforming country music into a major musical and cultural force in American life,” according to the Pulitzer Prize website. Other winners include Bob Dylan, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, and many others.

“Aretha is blessed and highly favored even in death. She’s continued to receive multiple awards—she’s received almost every award imaginable and now to get the Pulitzer Prize, it’s just amazing,” Sabrina Owens, Franklin’s niece and the executor of her estate, told the AP on Monday. “Aretha continues to bless us with her music and just paving the way for women going forward. It’s thrilling. She would be so happy right now.”

This is just one of the many awards the “Respect” singer has won. In 1987, Franklin was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, according to its website. The R&B soul singer also won 18 Grammys during her lifetime. She won her last Grammy award in 2010 for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals for her song “You've Got A Friend,” the Grammy Awards website states. “I don’t think there’s anybody I have known who possesses an instrument like hers and who has such a thorough background in gospel, the blues and the essential black-music idiom,” said Ahmet Ertegun, co-founder of Atlantic Records, in a statement on the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s website. “She is blessed with an extraordinary combination of remarkable urban sophistication and deep blues feeling...The result is maybe the greatest singer of our time.”

The singer from Detroit, Michigan, recorded hundreds of songs and had 20 of her hit songs make it to Number 1 on the R&B charts, the AP reported. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George W. Bush in 2005 for “her instantly recognizable voice” that “has captivated listeners ever since she toured with her father's gospel revue in the 1950s,” according to a citation from the White House.

Franklin performed at the funerals for civil rights activist Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., according to Rolling Stone. She also sang during the inaugurations of former Presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. Following her death, Rolling Stone called Franklin “America’s Greatest Voice.” R&B singer Luther Vandross, a friend of Franklin’s, told the publication in 1982: “This woman ain’t entertainment. She’s done opened the books to my life and told everybody. Like Roberta Flack used to say in ‘Killing Me Softly,’ ‘I thought he found my letters and read them all out loud.’ She was the spokesperson for a lot of people and how they feel.” She was also given the title of one of the most important entertainers of the 20th century by Time magazine, according to the AP.

Last year, Kendrick Lamar became the first rapper to win the Pulitzer Prize in Music for his 2017 album “Damn,” according to the Pulitzer Prize website.

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.