Documents show FBI tracked Aretha Franklin for 4 decades

NEW YORK - JANUARY 09: Soul singer Aretha Franklin sings in the Atlantic Records studio during 'The Weight' recording session on January 9, 1969 in New York City, New York. (Michael Ochs Archives, (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images))

DETROIT – Detroit’s Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, was tracked diligently by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for four decades, according to newly declassified documents obtained by Rolling Stone.

An investigation published in Rolling Stone by journalists Jenn Dize and Afeni Evans details the FBI’s 40-year surveillance of Franklin through fake phone calls, infiltration, spying and more. Rolling Stone obtained the documents in September, nearly four years after they requested them through the Freedom of Information Act.

Franklin, one of the most famous and most successful musicians in history, was born in Memphis in 1942, but grew up in Detroit, the city where she ultimately died in 2018 at the age of 76.

The declassified documents show the FBI’s suspicion of Franklin, using words like “hate America,” “militant Black power,” and “radical,” with concern from the bureau about her work and others she spent time with, including other musicians.

“I’m not really sure if my mother was aware that she was being targeted by the FBI and followed. I do know that she had absolutely nothing to hide though,” Aretha Franklin’s son Kecalf told Rolling Stone.

Through the years, declassified documents have shown the FBI kept a close watch on many influential Black people during the Civil Rights movement and beyond, including a detailed tracking of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Others included Motown legend Marvin Gaye, Jimi Hendrix and even Whitney Houston.

Franklin worked alongside some of the biggest names in the Civil Rights movement, including Dr. King, Angela Davis and others. Documents show the FBI tracked Franklin’s address, phone numbers and her regular activity. Documents also showed death threats Franklin received.

The FBI never found anything linking Franklin to any sort of extremism, the Rolling Stone investigation determined. You can check out their full report here.

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Ken Haddad is the digital content and audience manager for WDIV / He also authors the Morning Report Newsletter and various other newsletters. He's been with WDIV since 2013. He enjoys suffering through Lions games on Sundays in the fall.