Aretha Franklin Targeted By The FBI For Over 40 Years

Aretha Franklin was among many celebrities investigated by the FBI.

FROM 1967 TO 2007, the Federal Bureau of Investigation diligently collected information about Aretha Franklin using bogus phone calls, surveillance, infiltration, and highly-placed informants, according to the records released in September by Rolling Stone.

Aretha Franklin

With phrases like “Black extremists,” “pro-communist,” “hate America,” “radical,” “racial violence,” and “militant Black power” scattered throughout its 270 pages, Franklin’s FBI file is riddled with suspicion of the singer, her work, and the other activists and entertainers with whom she spent time. The file was first requested under the Freedom of Information Act on August 17, 2018. There are significant blackouts in some of the files, and others suggest that the FBI may be sitting on further information. Rolling Stone has demanded the FBI make public any and all further records.

I can’t say for certain whether or not my mom knew she was being watched by the FBI. Aretha Franklin’s son Kecalf Franklin said. “I do know that mother had absolutely nothing to conceal.”

Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin, who was born in Memphis in 1942 but grew up in Detroit, began her musical career as a child singing gospel with her minister father, Clarence L. Franklin.

As evidenced by the records uncovered, the FBI grew obsessed with Franklin after she got associated with civil rights activists like Martin Luther King Jr., Angela Davis, and others fighting for social justice. Besides the excessive amounts of monitoring, the FBI files also include allegations of death threats sent to or received by Franklin. Example 1974 letter: “Dear Aretha…I’m still in control of you…I’m not to be crossed…you should be…paying me some of my money…evidently your advisors do not comprehend the hazards of overlooking what I’m saying…I would hate to drag [your father] into this.”

Aretha Franklin

In 1979, four months after her father was murdered in Detroit, she got yet another threat from a guy who stated he was going to kill her and her family. Records also reveal that Franklin was the target of an effort to blackmail her at a different time. Suspect information has been withheld due to the sensitive nature of the events.

The Rolling Stone collection includes recently declassified documents from 1968, including one that describes the upcoming funeral for Martin Luther King Jr. as a “racial situation” and warns that the performance of “Sammy Davis Jr., Aretha Franklin…of this group, some have supported militant Black power concept” could spark “racial disturbance in this area.”

Aretha Franklin

The goverment also looked for links between Franklin and the Black Liberation Army and other “radical” groups, but came up empty. The FBI, “just in case” they could connect Franklin’s economic connections with the Black Panther Party, verified Franklin’s 1971 contract with Atlantic Records.

A small six-page file describes an incident that occurred when Marvin Gaye was not paid for a gig. There are papers in Jimi Hendrix’s file relating to a Canadian marajuana bust. A anti-apartheid activist Mariam Makeba and her ex-husband Stokely Carmichael kept a 292-page file documenting every purchase, from furniture to kitchen appliances. Micky Dolenz, member of The Monkees, has filed a lawsuit against the FBI for withholding the agency’s complete report on his group. The FBI obtain information on Robin Gibb, Whitney Houston, and the Notorious B.I.G., and also on John Denver.

Despite 400 pages of notes and 40 years of monitoring, the FBI was unable to find evidence connecting the Queen of Soul to any “radical” or “extremist” activity. The fact that the FBI was following her every step “made me feel a certain way,” Kecalf Franklin adds. They were wasting their time, but I knew my mom and the way she operated her business, and she didn’t have anything to conceal. They came up empty-handed, as you can see.

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