We at the Music and Recorded Sound Division of NYPL were saddened to learn of the passing of Aretha Franklin on August 16. Reflecting on her role in the history of music and recorded sound, we reviewed our archival collections for documents related to Franklin and came across an intriguing item in our ASCAP Archives.
The ASCAP Archives contain the business files of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP), a New York City-based organization founded in 1914 that protects the intellectual property of its member artists by tracking the use of their works and procuring royalty payments on their behalf.
One section of the collection includes "member files": press releases from record labels and publishing companies, news clippings, membership forms and other ephemera gathered by the ASCAP office. For instance, Bob Dylan’s hand-corrected lyric sheet for "Changing of the Guard," currently on display until September 1 in the exhibit "You Say You Want a Revolution: Remembering the 60s," comes from his member file in the ASCAP Archives.
Aretha Franklin’s file includes her membership form (seen here), which she likely filled out around 1964. The form contains several interesting details--for example, that she enjoyed bowling and golf in addition to songwriting, and that she considered "Without the One You Love" to be her most important recording at that point.
Aretha Franklin's ASCAP membership form. ASCAP Archives, New York Public Library
Also notable is her response to the request to "kindly outline [a] brief sketch of your career with particular reference to activities in music, and citing factors that led you to music"which seems to emphasize her piano-playing more than her singing:
"Started out playing in Father's church, changed fields and now I record for Columbia Records play piano on most of my releases."
We’ve also been puzzling over Franklin's response to two other items (listed as 6 and 7). In response to "Married or single," she has written something and then crossed it out, but we are unable to decipher what she originally wrote.
Then, in response to "If married, date of marriage," Franklin wrote "single." These responses have piqued our interest, given that the dates of her marriage to Ted White were 1961-1968.
If you would like to inspect this form and the rest of Aretha Franklin’s file (which otherwise consists of Columbia Records press releases), it is available in the Special Collections Reading Room at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, as call number JPB 12-12, Box 49, Folder 24.