Who were Aretha Franklin's sisters Erma and Carolyn and were they singers too?

6 July 2021, 18:28

Aretha Franklin (centre) with her sisters Erma (left) and Carolyn (right)
Aretha Franklin (centre) with her sisters Erma (left) and Carolyn (right). Picture: Getty

By Tom Eames

Aretha Franklin grew up to become one of the world's most respected and talented singers of all time.

But Aretha wasn't the only talented singer in her family. She was the middle sister to Erma (two years older than Aretha) and Carolyn (two years younger).

Erma and Carolyn were also singers, but what were they best known for and what happened to them?

Who was Erma Franklin?

Erma Franklin was born in Shelby, Mississippi, and was the oldest daughter of Barbara Siggers and the Reverend CL Franklin.

Alongside her sisters and brother Cecil, she was raised by both parents until her they separated in 1948, when Erma was 10. Barbara died in 1952.

As a child, Erma and her sisters Aretha and Carolyn sang at New Bethel Baptist Church. When Aretha became a successful recording artist, Erma began providing backing vocals and toured alongside her. One notable back-up performance for her sister was on Aretha's signature song 'Respect'.

Aretha Franklin (centre) with her father CL and sister Erma (right)
Aretha Franklin (centre) with her father CL and sister Erma (right). Picture: Getty
Erma Franklin
Erma Franklin. Picture: Getty

Erma Franklin's best-known song was the original version of 'Piece of My Heart', which was a minor hit in the US. In the UK, her version was used in a Levi's jeans advert, seeing it rise to number 9 in 1992.

Read more: Who is Aretha Franklin's first husband Ted White and where is he now?

She released two studio albums: Her Name is Erma in 1962 and Soul Sister in 1969.

By the mid-1970s, Erma had quit the music industry, aside from occasional performances with her sister. She was also one of the special guests at Aretha's 1986 Showtime cable TV special, and she also performed at Nelson Mandela's rally at Tiger Stadium in 1990.

Erma married Thomas Garrett, and gave birth to their two children: Thomas Jr (1954–2011) and Sabrina (born 1958).

For 25 years, she worked for the Boysville Holy Cross Community Center, a group that helps homeless and disadvantaged minority children in Detroit.

She died of lung cancer on September 7, 2002, at the of age 64.

Erma is played by actress Saycon Sengbloh in the Aretha Franklin biopic Respect.

Who was Carolyn Franklin?

Carolyn began singing at her father's New Bethel Baptist Church as a child.

She wass inspired by her sisters' successes in the early 1960s, and she soon followed Erma and Aretha into a gospel recording career in 1963.

Carolyn Franklin in 1969
Carolyn Franklin in 1969. Picture: Getty
Aretha Franklin and her sisters sing in 1987
Aretha Franklin and her sisters sing in 1987. Picture: Getty

After not finding too much success, she began to work as a songwriter, mainly for sister Aretha's output.

Aretha and Carolyn's close working relationship led to several collaborations between the pair, and Carolyn wrote several songs including 'Ain't No Way'.

Carolyn also wrote the 1973 ballad 'Angel', which also featured Carolyn and Erma on backing vocals.

Read more: How many children did Aretha Franklin have and where are they now?

In 1976, Carolyn retired from the music industry. She appeared as one of Aretha's background singers in the 1980 film The Blues Brothers.

Carolyn died of breast cancer at Aretha's home in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, on April 25, 1988.

In Respect, she is played by actress Hailey Kilgore.