Aretha Franklin had a very good year in 1968. She was the top-selling female recording artist, with smash-hit singles like "Chain of Fools" (released the year before, but hitting the top of the charts and winning a Grammy in 1968); "Think;" and "Since You've Been Gone." (She was, however, passed over for the coveted Billboard magazine "Artist of the Year" award that year, in favor of the Jimi Hendrix Experience.)
Like other black artists of the day, both those recording for Motown (like the Supremes and Smokey Robinson) and those who recorded for other labels, like Atlantic (Aretha's home label), Aretha Franklin was having tremendous cross-over success by 1968, with hit singles that charted on both the pop and rhythm-and-blues charts. To put it another way, Aretha's music was no longer only "Black" music, but was increasingly bought and listened to by huge audiences of white baby boomers. And Aretha's music didn't just sound catchy as it poured out of the car radio-- it was also great music to dance to.
That Aretha Franklin had truly "arrived" into White, mainstream culture was most securely symbolized by her appearance on the cover of TIME magazine--- the place that had been, since TIME's first issue in 1927, the red-bordered Pantheon of media significance.
Aretha was actually the fourth African American woman to grace the cover of TIME. Her three predecessors also got there, it seems, by achieving success in historically "white" endeavors: opera (Marian Anderson and Leontyne Price) and tennis (Althea Gibson).
Aretha gets the full TIME cover treatment-- a richly colored oil painting by Boris Chaliapin (now in the collection of the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery, along with most other TIME covers) and a five-page article inside, headlined "Lady Soul." Typically, TIME's editors strive to interpret Black culture--in this case, the concept of "soul"--for their mostly white readership, though this first paragraph is cringe-inducing:
Has it got soul? Man, that's the question of the hour. If it has soul, then it's tough, beautiful, out of sight. It passes the test of with-itness. It has the authenticity of collard greens boiling on the stove, the sassy style of the boogaloo in a hip discotheque, the solidarity signified by "Soul Brother" scrawled on a ghetto storefront.
Soul is a way of life--but it is always the hard way. . . . Soul is happening everywhere, in esthetics and anthropology, history and dietetics, haberdashery and politics.