Among the mysteries of Aretha Franklin’s life and her preference for “extreme privacy,” her role as a mother was one the superstar typically kept private, reports People.com.
The Queen of Soul, who died on August 16 at the age of 76, had four children — her first, at only 12 years old.
“She had a tough childhood,” David Ritz, who wrote multiple biographies on Franklin’s life told PEOPLE before her death.
The “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” singer’s childhood was marked by the separation of her mother Barbara and her father Clarence LaVaughn, whom she named her oldest son after, according to Respect, Ritz’s book on Franklin’s life.
Franklin’s mother left the family when the singer was only 6 years old because of her husband’s infidelity. “She put out a picture of her having a happy home and happy children and everything was rosy, and any stories to the contrary really got her mad,” ghostwriter Ritz previously told PEOPLE.
While she never publicly confirmed who fathered her older children, Ritz revealed in his book that the father of her oldest son, Clarence, 63, was Donald Burke, whom Franklin knew from school.
“Aretha went back to school after having Clarence,” the musical icon’s sister Erma said in Respect. “She was an excellent student who did well in all her classes.”
Just two years after
giving birth to Clarence, Franklin welcomed her second child, Edward, now 61.
Franklin would then drop out of school to focus on her musical career, leading
her to live a life of “silent suffering,” as her sister Erma describes in
Respect. “We were part of that generation of young female singers who
definitely sacrificed time with our kids to attend to our careers. We did so
knowingly,” Franklin’s eldest sister said in the book. “We also did so with
Care of her two eldest children fell heavily to “Big Mama,” Franklin’s grandmother, according to the 2015 biography of Franklin’s life.
“I still wanted to get out and hang out with my friends,” she told Ebony in 1995 of young motherhood. “I wanted to be in two places at the same time. But my grandmother helped me a lot, and my sister and my cousin. They would babysit so I could get out occasionally.”
At 19, Franklin married Ted White, and had a son with him, named Ted “Teddy” White, Jr., 54.
Ted and the singer divorced in 1969 after reports of domestic abuse surfaced, and a 1968 Time article described how White “roughed her up” more than once.
White, Jr. would go on to play backup guitar for Franklin before pursuing his own musical career under the name Teddy Richards. Franklin’s youngest son, Kecalf, 48, was born in 1970. His name is an acronym of both his father and mother’s full names — Ken E. Cunningham (the star’s road manager) and Aretha Louise Franklin.