Over the course of her monumental career, Aretha Franklin managed to chart 112 singles, 77 of which made an appearance on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100 chart. But her home chart was for R&B, on which she had 100 entries and earned 20 number one singles. In doing so, she became the most-charted female artist in that chart’s entire history.
A sampling of Franklin’s many hits include, “Respect,” “A Natural Woman,” and “Think.” The success of these songs and countless others led to Franklin being dubbed as the “Queen of Soul.”
But her influence was so great that artists of all genres mourned when news broke on Thursday (August 16) that she had passed away. Country stars were no exception, as many of the genre’s leading stars flooded social media with tributes.
Just as country stars loved Franklin, she loved country music. From time to time, the Queen of Soul ventured out of her comfort zone to cover a country tune or two. But these covers weren’t as popular as her other songs, meaning that you’ve likely never heard any of them before.
In honor of Franklin’s immense talent, we want to share a few of those country covers here with you now.
1. “You Are My Sunshine”
Published in 1939, “You Are My Sunshine” is about as classic as a country song can get. It seems like almost every country singer out there has recorded a rendition of the tune, including Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and more recently, Chris Stapleton.
The song was so popular that it crossed genre lines, with artists such as Nat King Cole, Ray Charles, and Chuck Berry all giving it a shot. Franklin was another non-country singer who offered up a take on the track, and it’s just as good as you’d expect.
2. I’ll Never Be Free
Released in 1950 as a duet between Tennessee Ernie Ford and Kay Starr, “I’ll Never Be Free” was a huge country hit. It reached the second spot on the country chart and also managed to cross over to pop, where it peaked at the third position.
The song’s popularity led to a number of covers, including ones from Jim Ed Brown, Pat Boone, and Dinah Washington.
Surprisingly, Franklin’s soulful rendition of the song managed to fly under the radar. Now, we’re bringing it back for you to enjoy.
3. “Gentle On My Mind”
“Gentle on My Mind” is a country classic that needs no introduction. Known as one of Glen Campbell‘s signature songs, the song raked in four Grammy Awards after its release, two for songwriter John Hartford and two for Campbell.
Franklin’s rendition of the song is one of her most well-known country covers, since she actually released it as a single in 1969. Her unique rendition peaked at the 76th spot on the all-genre Hot 100 chart and the 50th on the Hot Rhythm & Blues Singles chart.
In the video above, you can watch her perform a duet version of the song with traditional pop artist Andy Williams.
4. “Night Life”
Written and originally performed by Willie Nelson, “Night Life” is a song that was practically begging for the Queen of Soul to record it. After all, the chorus literally mentions blues music, with lyrics such as, “Oh, please listen to the blues. Listen to the blues they’re playin‘.”
Although Franklin sang the song live not long after its release, a recorded cover didn’t come until several decades later. In the meantime, other country stars such as Ray Price and Dolly Parton gave the song a shot.
Finally, Franklin released her recorded rendition of the song in 1998, which appeared on her album The Delta Meets Detroit.
5. “Cold, Cold Heart”
It doesn’t get any more “country” than Hank Williams‘ 1951 ballad, “Cold, Cold Heart.” The song is just as iconic as Williams himself, and is known as one of the greatest songs in country music history.
You would think that such a song wouldn’t translate well into Franklin’s style, but that’s not true. Just as she did with all of the other country covers you’ve heard so far, Franklin transformed the song into a soulful masterpiece, and did so effortlessly.
To put it simply, Franklin’s rendition of “Cold, Cold Heart” is nothing short of divine.
Which one of Franklin’s country covers is your favorite? Were you familiar with any of them before?