In 1987, Aretha Franklin made history as the first woman to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. And in doing so, she set the stage for generations of female artists – more specifically, female African American artists.
Of the 55 other legendary female performers who have walked in her stead – as solo acts or girl groups or members of some of the biggest bands in music history – more than half have been African American.
As of 2018, 32 of the 56 female Hall of Famers are black women. They also accounted for the first 13 female honorees – from Aretha’s history-making moment in 1987 to the induction of R&B pioneer Etta James in 1993.
“Aretha, your music set a standard for every single lady in this industry to rise to,” Gladys Knight wrote after Franklin’s passing. Knight was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 1996.
The long line of legendary women to follow in Franklin’s Hall of Fame footsteps include members of Motown royalty, like Diana Ross, The Supremes, and Martha and the Vandellas.
They included all-girl groups like The Shirelles and the Ronettes.
They include Franklin’s contemporaries, like Etta James.
And Nina Simone, the Hall’s newest female inductee this year.
The day of Aretha’s passing, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame paid tribute to her impact, not only on the music world, but on their institution.
“Lady Soul,” they wrote on Twitter. “The first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Aretha Franklin was an artist of passion, sophistication and command, whose recordings remained anthems that defined soul music. Long live the Queen.”
Women who sang and worked alongside Frankling recalled a singular talent, who was as much a hero as she was a fellow performer.
Bonnie Raitt, who was inducted in 2000, told CNN’s Jake Tapper Aretha was an “incredible inspiration.”
“For me, I was about 16 or so when I first heard her,” Raitt said. “And those first two albums of hers…completely influenced my singing and my style as well as my feelings for what it was to be a woman…and learn about men and heartache and about resilience and respect.”
While Aretha’s triumphs set the stage for generations of black female artists, and female artists in general, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is still a narrow and overwhelmingly male mark of achievement. Of the more than 200 individual performers and groups currently in the Hall of Fame, only 37 are female performers or groups featuring female performers.