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Singer Aretha Franklin received extensive praise in her life, from being nicknamed the “Queen of Soul” to winning numerous accolades. She died in 2018 at the age of 76 after having won 18 Grammy Awards, a Kennedy Center Honor, and a host of other honors.
But one particular honor put her at another, perhaps unprecedented, level.
In 1985, the Department of Natural Resources in her home state of Michigan declared her voice a “natural resource.” The declaration was part of a celebration paying tribute to her career, which at the time had been going strong for more than two decades.
The event was covered in this 1985 issue of Jet, a magazine about Black culture and entertainment:
The event was also covered in this August 1985 issue of The Sentinel, a Pennsylvania newspaper:
According to the book “Aretha Franklin: Queen of Soul” by Mark Bego, Franklin said of the honor: “I’m especially delighted with the idea of making my voice a Natural Resource of Michigan — being that I am a Michigan girl at heart.”
Given that this unusual tribute was widely covered by reliable sources at the time, we rate this claim as “True.”
“Albert’s Medley.” The Sentinel from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, 30 Aug. 1985. Accessed 7 Feb. 2022.
“Aretha Franklin.” https://www.grammy.com/artists/aretha-franklin/11503. Grammy.com. Accessed 7 Feb. 2022.
“Aretha Franklin’s Voice Declared Natural Resource.” Jet, Aug. 1985, https://books.google.com/books?id=QbMDAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA59&lpg=PA59&dq=aretha+franklin+%22natural+resource%22&source=bl&ots=lmfTwwO2Wt&sig=ACfU3U1U6vHxzbRIyQy2KCeQZ5y11xdHMQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwi1kKvHku71AhUglYkEHQiSC2w4ChDoAXoECCQQAw#v=onepage&q=aretha%20franklin%20%22natural%20resource%22&f=false. Accessed 7 Feb. 2022.
“Aretha L. Franklin Memorial Highway Dedicated in Detroit.” Mlive, 24 Aug. 2020, https://www.mlive.com/public-interest/2020/08/aretha-l-franklin-memorial-highway-dedicated-in-detroit.html. Accessed 7 Feb. 2022.
Bego, Mark. Aretha Franklin: Queen of Soul. Skyhorse Publishing, 2012, https://www.google.com/books/edition/Aretha_Franklin/NezL3J5gRDQC?hl=en&gbpv=0. Accessed 7 Feb. 2022.
“RIP Aretha Franklin: Five Ways the Queen of Soul Made History.” BBC News, 16 Aug. 2018. www.bbc.com, https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-45167940. Accessed 7 Feb. 2022.
Suggs, Ernie, and Shelia M. Poole. “Aretha Franklin Used Her Voice to ‘Deliver Music for Social Justice.’” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Accessed 7 Feb. 2022.