Aretha Franklin was tracked by FBI for 40 years, according to documents

Mildred Europa Taylor October 03, 2022
Aretha Franklin at Madame Tussaud's in NYC. Image: Wikimedia Commons/InSapphoWeTrust

The Federal Bureau of Investigation spent 40 years tracking singer Aretha Franklin, according to documents obtained by Rolling Stone from the organization. The outlet said the FBI used false phone calls, infiltration and surveillance to track the Queen of Soul, producing a 270-page file on her.

The file contains phrases like “pro-communist,”  “Black extremists,” “hate America,” “radical,” “racial violence,” and “militant Black power” and content that doubted the singer and her work with other activists and entertainers.

Franklin passed away on August 16, 2018, at her home in Detroit after a lengthy illness. She succumbed to her battle with pancreatic cancer surrounded by her family and friends.

Franklin started her singing career in 1956 when she recorded her earliest tracks. Regarded as a child prodigy, she was a self-taught musician lauded for her booming and unique voice.

Her highly successful career, spanning several decades, saw her bag several awards and honors. She received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, several Grammy Awards, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and ranked first on Rolling Stone’s list of Greatest Singers of All Time. The singer and pianist was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (she became the first woman in history to achieve such a feat).

She became a target of the FBI largely because of her work with civil rights like Martin Luther King Jr. and Angela Davis. FBI agents frequently tracked her phone numbers, addresses and activities, according to Rolling Stone. The outlet said among the documents it obtained is a 1968 report on the funeral plans for Martin Luther King Jr., with the report calling the funeral a “racial situation”.

The report noted: “Sammy Davis Jr., Aretha Franklin…of this group, some have supported militant Black power concept…[performance at MLK memorial by these prominent entertainers] would provide emotional spark which could ignite racial disturbance in this area.”

The FBI also tried several times to link Franklin to the Black Liberation Army and other radical groups but failed, said Rolling Stone. The documents, some of which are newly declassified, also contain letters and reports of death threats against Franklin, including a death threat she received after her father was shot in 1979. Information about the suspect in that incident and others has been redacted, per Rolling Stone.

After 40 years of spying on the singer, the FBI did not find anything connecting the singer to any type of extremist activity, the Rolling Stone added.

“It does make me feel a certain way knowing the FBI had her targeted and wanted to know her every move,” the singer’s son, Kecalf Franklin, was quoted by the outlet. “But at the same time knowing my mother and the way she ran her business I know she had nothing to hide so they wouldn’t have found anything and were wasting their time. As you see…they found nothing at all.” 

Rolling Stone said there may be additional materials in the FBI’s possession and so it has asked the bureau to make available all additional records. The FBI is yet to comment on this report.

Aretha Franklin was tracked by FBI for 40 years, according to new documents

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: October 3, 2022


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