A recently declassified FBI file on Aretha Franklin revealed that the bureau extensively monitored the late singer’s civil rights activism.
The 270-page document contains reports on the singer from more than 12 US states, focusing on her friendship with Martin Luther King, as well as death threats she received and a copyright case involving Yahoo! Groups.
The document, which can be seen here, shows that Franklin was monitored before and during his appearances at civil rights events such as 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 the FBI described them in the document as “communist infiltration” events.
Elsewhere, Franklin was referenced in a story titled: “Martin Luther King’s Evaluation. Racial Issues,” and notes were made about his participation in a memorial concert planned for the famous activist. After an FBI source said the show would “provide an emotional spark that could ignite race unrest in this area,” the SCLC canceled the event.
A 1973 FBI informant memo about Franklin said: “Since there is no evidence that Ms. Franklin with the activities [del Ejército Negro de Liberación] and in view of her reputation as a singer, it is felt that it would not be in the interest of the Bureau to attempt to interview her.”
The file also reports three death threats made against the singer, including one from a Cook County inmate who tried to extort $1 million from Franklin by posing as an FBI agent.
Three death threats against Franklin are documented, including an attempt by a Cook County Jail inmate to extort $1 million (£860,000) from her by posing as an FBI agent.
Reference is also made to a 2005 copyright infringement case against the moderator Yahoo! Groups, which the FBI considers “the largest unofficial Aretha Franklin fan site” on the Internet.
The culprit, who was never brought to trial, described himself as an “anti-fan” who allegedly sold pirated physical copies of Franklin’s live performances.
Separately, it was revealed last month that The Monkees’ Micky Dolenz is suing the FBI over any records the organization has on the band and its members.
In 1967, an FBI informant attended a concert from the band’s first US tour and filed a report claiming that the concert contained “subliminal messages”. […] represented on the screen which, in the opinion of the [informante]which amounted to ‘left-wing intervention of a political nature’”.
The report went on to describe messages that included “riots in Berkley, anti-American messages about the Vietnam War, race riots in Selma, Alabama, and similar messages that received an unfavorable response from the audience”.
The Monkees file was published in 2011, but heavily edited. In June 2022, Dolenz – the only surviving member of the band – made a Freedom of Information Act request for the entire file, but was unsuccessful.