The First Recordings
Aretha was now a professional recording artist, but she still had a lot to learn. Aretha's manager Jo King arranged for her to take “finishing classes” in preparation for live performances. Aretha took classes in posture and movement. She had a vocal coach. Her favorite classes were dancing lessons with Cholly Atkins, a famous black choreographer. Cholly later went on to work with Motown acts like Diana Ross and the Supremes.
Aretha also began performing live concerts at small clubs in New York City's Greenwich Village. Initially, Aretha suffered from terrible stage fright at the New York clubs. Sometimes she didn't show up as scheduled. When she did show up, audiences loved her. It was clear to everyone that Aretha had an incredible voice. The album Aretha was so successful that she was named the New Female Vocal Star in the 1961 International Jazz Critics Poll.
Aretha Franklin was the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in 1987. She also broke new ground when she graced the cover of Time magazine in 1968. Aretha was the first female African American to appear on its cover.
Aretha's nerves got the best of her when she was booked to appear as a guest on The Ed Sullivan Show. The show was a great opportunity for a young artist, since Ed Sullivan drew large audiences. Aretha wore a gown that had been made especially for the appearance, but network censors told her she would have to wear something else. “They said my gown was too low cut, [but] I don't think it was,” Aretha remembered years later. “I don't think that at that time they had seen a black woman on network TV showing so much cleavage. I had rehearsed a long time for that appearance. I just went out the back door crying.”
Aretha continued touring and performing in other cities. At a concert in Philadelphia, Clara Ward and the Ward Singers went to see Aretha perform. John Wilson, a pianist for the Wards, recalled that Aretha was terribly nervous. “Aretha sang wonderfully for an empty house, but she was pleased to see Clara,” Wilson explained. “Aretha was feeling low but Clara encouraged her to continue.” Aretha took Clara Ward's advice and kept on trying.