Aretha Franklin, who died Thursday at 76, was a once-in-a-generation singer. She was the Queen of Soul, but she also ventured into — and mastered — virtually every style of music, from jazz and classical to rhythm and blues. Here were her essential recordings:
“You Grow Closer” (1998): The teenage Aretha cuts loose in the ‘50s, revving up a raucous congregation at her father’s New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit.
“The Queen in Waiting: The Columbia Years 1960-1965” (2002): Highlights from her underrated jazz and big-band recordings before she became a national star.
“I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)” (1967): This is not the first soul album by a long shot, but it may be the best. Franklin had been singing and recording for 10 years and was ready to make her statement. Producer Jerry Wexler had the good sense to put her voice and piano at the center of a kicking Southern rhythm section, stand back and let her be.
“Lady Soul” (1968): Another towering achievement, from the accusatory “Chain of Fools” to the sensual “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.”
“Amazing Grace” (1972): After more than a decade in which she focused on pop material, Franklin returned with renewed intensity to the gospel music of her childhood in what has often been called the best-selling gospel album of all time.
“30 Greatest Hits” (1985): First-rate introduction to her classic Atlantic period, 1967-72.
“One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism” (1987): Another gospel masterpiece that is easily the most intense and heartfelt set of performances from Franklin’s final three decades, even if slightly marred by some windy speeches and introductions.