Getty Images | youtube.com/Wall Street Journal
Source: Getty Images | youtube.com/Wall Street Journal

Aretha Franklin Led Life of ‘Silent Suffering’ After Giving Birth Twice by the Age 14

Olawale Ogunjimi
Feb 25, 2022
12:20 A.M.
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Award-winning singer Aretha Franklin was a legendary entertainer who did not stop performing until death. Although she became an inspiration, she led a "silent suffering" life after transitioning to motherhood early.

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For decades, Aretha Franklin blessed the entertainment industry with her soulful and enchanting voice. She also inspired a host of younger musicians.

Franklin loved her privacy despite her celebrity status and knew how to keep some personal details in the closet.

Closeup photo of Singer Aretha Franklin during an interview [left] Singer Aretha Franklin records in the studio in circa 1961 [right]. | Source: Getty Images

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Still, the singer's loyal fans are aware of her difficult childhood. As a young child, Franklin suffered greatly before venturing into music.

Franklin had a child as a preteen, and fame came knocking when she could barely handle its pressures. Here are all the details of the singer's life, including becoming a mother at a young age.

Clive Davis, Aretha Franklin and Kecalf Cunningham at Aretha Franklin's 72nd Birthday Celebration on March 22, 2014 in New York City | Source: Getty Images

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ARETHA FRANKLIN'S CHILDHOOD YEARS

During her life, Franklin experienced so many heartbreaks that eventually powered the intensity of her songs. Growing up, her parents, Barbara and Clarence LaVaughn, separated, and Franklin, who was close to her mom, found it difficult to cope in her absence.

She did not understand the reason for the split, which traumatized her. Franklin would cry regularly, and when it was time to visit her mother, she would pack her bags days before, displaying an eagerness to be with Barbara.

Clarence Franklin, Aretha Franklin's son, is supported by two friends after his mother's funeral on August 31, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan | Source: Getty Images

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Sadly, her mother died of a heart attack, leaving Franklin in a worse emotional state. She stopped talking for a few weeks, and it took years before she became more confident, thanks to music. According to an insider:

"Without the music, I'm not sure Aretha would have ever found her way out of the shell."

Once Franklin found her voice in music, another mishap occurred. At age 13, she became pregnant with her first child by a lover named Romeo. 

Willie Wilkerson, Aretha Franklin, Kecalf Cunningham and Victorie Cunningham at the musical "Chicago" on May 29, 2015 in New York City | Source: Getty Images

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Not only was teenage pregnancy rare in the 1950s, but she was the child of a Baptist preacher. Many would have expected her family to react the typical way—eject her from home, but her father showed support.

Franklin revealed that her father was a realist; he never scolded her but walked her through the responsibilities attached to motherhood.

She had planned on eloping with Romeo, but it never happened. When she was six months pregnant, Franklin dropped out of school.

Late musician Aretha Franklin at the opening of the Mica and Ahmet Ertegun Atrium at Jazz at Lincoln Center on December 17, 2015 | Source: Getty Images

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As soon as she turned 14, the pregnant teen welcomed baby Clarence, named after her dad. Some relatives admitted that Clarence's father was just a boy from school and that Franklin never shared anything serious with him.

Another source mentioned that Clarence's birth father was Donald Burke. Whether either of these accounts is true, what lingers is that Franklin grew up too early. 

She had a child at an early age with a lover who did not play the role of a father. After motherhood, she transformed into a superstar, but that also came with some sacrifices.

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ARETHA FRANKLIN'S LIFE AFTER BECOMING A MOM

After having her first child, Franklin returned to school. Her sister, Erma, described her as an "excellent student" who scored good grades in all her classes.

Before turning 18, she became pregnant with her second son, Edwards, and this time, she also had to leave school to face motherhood.

But while Franklin was a responsible parent, she also focused on her musical career. This was possible because of the help she received from her grandmother, sisters, and cousin.

Aretha Franklin performs at The Fox Theatre on March 5, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia | Source: Getty Images

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Despite all the help around, motherhood was never easy. In David Ritz's publication about the singer, Erma claimed that her sister lived a life of "silent suffering" after the teenage pregnancies. 

While speaking about being a parent as a teenager, Franklin confessed that she still wanted to be around friends and was eager to be in two places (with her pals and at home with her child).

Aretha Franklin at the 102nd White House Correspondents' Association Dinner on April 30, 2016 in Washington, DC. |Source: Getty Images

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By age 19, the mother of two married Ted White, and they shared a son, Ted "Teddy" White Jr. Their union did not last, and rumors had it that her husband "roughed her up" several times.

Shortly after her marriage ended, the singer became involved with her road manager, Ken E. Cunningham, and they welcomed a son, Kecalf.

Grandchildren of Aretha Franklin, Jonah, Victorie and Gracie on stage at the "A People's Tribute to the Queen" event on August 30, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan | Source: Getty Images

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ARETHA FRANKLIN ON MOTHERHOOD AND HOW HER KIDS TURNED OUT

While there have been several accounts of Franklin's lifestyle, including pregnancies and her teenage love interests, the singer refused to divulge any concrete details on her personal life.

However, Franklin proudly talked about her admiration for kids despite becoming a mother early. In her words:

"All children are miracles...I accepted this blessing...The romantic relationship that once burned so brightly burned out. But the love between a mother and a child is forever."

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Franklin died at age 76, leaving an overwhelming legacy in the entertainment industry. Many looked up to her, and a biopic was filmed in her honor.

She enjoyed life as a mother to her four boys and a grandmother to their kids. Franklin's kids are also establishing their legacy, even though they have lived differently from their mother.

Her first son, Clarence, maintains a low-key profile. He has undisclosed special needs, which Franklin provided for in her will.

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Unlike his mother, he does not have much interest in music but has scripted some songs recorded by his mother.

Edward takes after Franklin. While she was alive, the duo performed on stage. The younger singer is interested in the music business and even performed at his mother's funeral in 2018.

The music bug also bit the singer's third son, Ted White Jr., who has recorded several albums. He also played at his mother's concerts.

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Franklin's youngest child, Kecalf, whose name is an acronym of his parents' names, also inherited his mother's performing skills. However, he works as a Christain rapper and has shared the stage with the iconic singer.

After Franklin's death, three conflicting handwritten wills were found in her Detroit home with no clear instructions on splitting her estate. 

It only addressed Clarence's birth father, explaining that he must never access their son's property because he was an absentee father. 

But her sons did not buy into it. Kecalf and Clarence filed a fourth will asking that their mother's eighty-million-dollar estate be shared among the four kids.

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