A newly declassified FBI file on Aretha Franklin has proven that the bureau extensively tracked the late singer’s civil rights activism.
The 270-page document features reports on the singer from more than 12 US states, and focuses on her friendship with Martin Luther King as well as death threats made against her and a copyright case involving a Yahoo! Groups fan site.
The document, which is available to view here, shows that Franklin was monitored ahead of and around her appearances at civil rights movement events, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
The events took place in the late 1960s in Atlanta, Georgia and Memphis, Tennessee respectively, and were referred to by the FBI in the document as “communist infiltration” events.
Elsewhere, Franklin was referenced in a note titled: “Assassination of Martin Luther King. Racial matters,” and notes were made of her involvement in a planned memorial concert for the famous activist. After an FBI source said the show “would provide emotional spark which could ignite racial disturbance this area,” the SCLC cancelled the event.
A 1973 memo from FBI informants said of Franklin: “In view of the fact there is no evidence of involvement by Miss Franklin in [Black Liberation Army] activities and in view of her fame as a singer, it is felt that it would not be in the best interests of the Bureau to attempt to interview her.”
Also in the file are reports of three death threats made against the singer, including one from a prison inmate in Cook County, who tried to extort Franklin for $1million by posing as an FBI agent.
Three death threats against Franklin are documented, including a Cook County jail inmate’s attempt to extort her for $1 million (£860,000) while posing as an FBI agent.
Extensive notes are also made of a 2005 copyright infringement case against the moderator of a Yahoo! Groups message board, claimed by the FBI to be “the unofficial biggest Aretha Franklin fan site” on the internet.
The culprit, who was never taken to trial, described themselves as an “anti-fanatic” who was alleged to have sold pirated physical copies of Franklin’s live performances.
Elsewhere, last month it was revealed that The Monkees’ Micky Dolenz is suing the FBI to obtain any records that the organisation has on the band and its members.
In 1967 an FBI informant attended a concert on the band’s first tour in the US and filed a report that claimed the concert featured “subliminal messages […] depicted on the screen which, in the opinion of [informant] constituted ‘left wing intervention of a political nature’”.
The report continued to describe the messages as showing “riots in Berkley, anti-US messages on the war in Vietnam, racial riots in Selma, Alabama, and similar messages which had unfavourable response from the audience”.
The Monkees’ file was released to the public in 2011 but was heavily redacted. In June 2022, Dolenz – the only surviving member of the band – filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the full file but failed to achieve his goal.