Aretha Franklin is an icon of American music and the Queen of Soul, but according to a new book, the legendary star’s dark side was one of epic proportions. Writer David Ritz alleges as much in his controversial new book, RESPECT; in which Ritz paints Franklin as a paranoid diva, driven by insecurity and addiction; and carrying dark scars from a damaged youth and troubled father. According to the book, Rev. C.L. Franklin’s Detroit church also doubled as a house of sin on Saturday nights, complete with orgies. Ritz includes quotes from late musicians Ray Charles and Billy Preston in which they discuss the culture at New Bethel Baptist Church. The atmosphere caused Aretha to be sexually adventurous, even at a young age, with Ritz outlining a teenage Aretha’s sexual encounters with older men, like soul legend Sam Cooke.
Ritz claims that Franklin was extremely paranoid about the commercial success of contemporaries such as Barbra Streisand and Diana Ross, and that she later was furious at Beyoncé, who once referred to Tina Turner as “the Queen of Soul.” Ritz talks about her marriage to her manager Ted White, who he says financed her career with money he’d made from pimping prostitutes in Detroit.
“Everyone knew that Ted White was a brutal man,” Aretha’s sister-in-law Earline told Ritz. “But Aretha … she’s always clung to this fairy-tale storyline. She wanted the world to think she had a storybook marriage. She was having all those hits and making all that money. She was scared of rocking the boat, until one day the boat capsized and she nearly drowned.”
The book also delves into Aretha’s food addictions, her allegedly floating fake stories about her husbands and lovers to the press, her insecurity about her looks, and many more dark aspects of Franklin’s life and career. The singer, who just released the covers album, Aretha Franklin Sings the Diva Classics, has not responded to Ritz’s book. Ritz wrote the Franklin autobiography Aretha: From These Roots 15 years ago.