As a child, Franklin and her sisters, Carolyn and Erma, sang at her father's Detroit, Michigan-area church and made her first recordings at age 14. She signed with Columbia Records after being discovered by John Hammond. In the early 1960s, Franklin had a few popular songs, most notably "Rock-a-bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody" though her most innovative work was yet to come.
After moving to Atlantic Records, Franklin worked with producer Jerry Wexler, resulting in some of the most influential R&B recordings of the 1960s, including "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)", a much more soulful and impassioned song than most of her earlier work. By the late 1960s, Franklin had earned the nickname "The Queen of Soul", having become an internationally famous artist and a symbol of pride for the African American community. She released numerous Top Ten hits in the late 1960s and early 1970s, dabbling in gospel music, blues music, pop music, psychedelic music and rock and roll, including notable covers of songs by The Beatles ("Eleanor Rigby"), The Band ("The Weight"), Simon & Garfunkel ("Bridge Over Troubled Water"), Sam Cooke and The Drifters. Live at Fillmore West and Amazing Grace were two of her most influential full-length releases.
Among her most successful hit singles from this era were "Chain of Fools", "Natural Woman", "Think", "Baby I Love You", "The House That Jack Built", and "Respect", which became her signature song. After the R&B category was added to the Grammy Awards in 1968, she was virtually unchallenged, winning eight successive awards for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance; she later added three more Grammies in this category in the 1980s.
Franklin's popularity and critical success waned during the mid to late 1970s and the 1980s, though she scored several hits, often with partners (such as Luther Vandross). Most critics dismiss her seventies and eighties material as far inferior to the legendary recordings of the mid to late sixties.