Harvard University bestowed some R.E.S.P.E.C.T. upon the Queen of Soul Thursday afternoon: Aretha Franklin received an honorary Doctor of Arts degree at Harvard University’s 2014 commencement. Franklin is among eight people receiving honorary degrees during the commencement. The other honorees are former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, author Isabel Allende, medical ethicist Patricia A. King, botanist Peter H. Raven, art historian Seymour Slive, economist Joseph E. Stiglitz and former President George H.W. Bush.
Born in Memphis, Tenn., in 1942, Franklin started out singing in her father’s church choir at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit. She later made the transition from gospel music to became a secular singer, songwriter and pianist. In 1987 Franklin became first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. On top of her 18 Grammy Awards, Franklin received the Kennedy Center Honors in 1994 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005.
Harvard’s honorary degree isn’t the first Franklin has received. Over the last 38 years she has received numerous honorary doctorates, including honorary doctorates in music from Princeton University, in 2012; Yale University, 2010; the Berklee College of Music, 2006; the New England Conservatory of Music, 1995; and the University of Michigan, 1987. She also received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Wayne State University in 1990 and an honorary Doctor of Law degree from Bethune-Cookman College in 1975.
In addition to receiving her degree this afternoon, Franklin opened up the ceremonies by singing the national anthem.
Yesha Callahan is editor of The Grapevine and a staff writer at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.