What Were Aretha Franklin’s Enneagram and Myers-Briggs Types?

One of the most iconic performers of all time, Aretha Franklin was known for her powerful voice and stage presence to match. She was one of the original divas, the “Queen of Soul” who entertained many with big hits like, “Respect,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” and, “I Say a Little Prayer.” 

But of course, there are many sides to everyone. Aretha was also a civil rights leader -- singing at protests, making sure activist groups had funding -- and intensely private about her family and personal life. Aretha was an Enneagram Type Eight, as well as an ISFJ. Here’s more about her multifaceted personality. 

ENNEAGRAM - Type Eight: The Challenger 

Enneagram Eights are well-known for their bold choices, inimitable confidence, and deep sense of justice -- all of which Aretha had in spades. She did not shy away from speaking loudly on behalf of others, and made her own musical choices regardless of critical perception. “I’ve never recorded anything I didn’t like,” she once said.

Aretha was a true diva, with a big personality and big voice, but a heart for people seeking justice. Her passion and independent spirit was characteristic of her Type Eight personality. “Be your own artist, and always be confident in what you're doing,” she said. “If you're not going to be confident, you might as well not be doing it.”

Outwardly: Spotting the Eight

  • Confident: Aretha did not shy away from the spotlight, belting big hits with her big voice, like R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
  • Bold: Aretha was known for her show-stopping voice as well as her show-stopping style. She regularly wore big furs, along with glam hair and makeup. 
  • Energetic: Aretha churned out hit album after hit album for decades. She landed 112 singles on the Billboard charts, along with 17 top-ten hits and 20 R&B number-one songs.
  • Passionate: Aretha sang from the heart, and used her personal pain and emotional experience to power her work. “If a song’s about something I’ve experienced or that could’ve happened to me it’s good,” she said. “But if it’s alien to me, I couldn’t lend anything to it. Because that’s what soul is all about.”

Inwardly: Eights on the Inside

  • Protective: Eights care a ton about people, both those they love and the world more broadly. “Being the Queen is not all about singing, and being a diva is not all about singing,” Aretha once said. “It has much to do with your service to people. And your social contributions to your community and your civic contributions as well.”
  • Controlled: Eights really want control over their environment, narrative and experiences. Aretha was intensely private, and was much quieter behind closed doors that the diva audiences saw onstage. 
  • Moral: Eights want to be treated with the same respect they give to others; this sense of inner justice and rightness propels everything they do. “Everybody wants respect,” Aretha once said. “In their own way, three-year-olds would like respect, and acknowledgment, in their terms.”

TYPEFINDER Personality Type: ISFJ: The Protector 

I: Introverted: Aretha was private; she battled pancreatic cancer in secret for roughly a decade. Her biographer called her tendency to keep her personal life to herself “extreme.”

S: Sensing: Sensors are grounded and embrace each moment; they are also doers and make great performers. Aretha was renowned for her ability to translate emotions into her music and change personas. According to a statement from Barack and Michelle Obama: “In her voice, we could feel our history, all of it and in every shade — our power and our pain, our darkness and our light, our quest for redemption and our hard-won respect.”

F: Feeling: Though she was a brilliant performer and had a successful career, she made decisions with family and loved ones in mind. Aretha’s nephew claimed the family rarely met “The Queen of Soul,” but rather the loving mother and aunt who had created her onstage.

J: Judging: Judging types are dedicated and steadfast in their goals and plans. Especially in her early years, Aretha was committed to making it as a solo act, and dedicated herself to transitioning from gospel to pop. She was also deeply committed to her faith.

Cognitive Functions

Si: Introverted sensors enjoy tradition, feel most comfortable with rules, and tend to reminisce about the past. In this way, Aretha has mentioned music is nostalgic: “Music does a lot of things for a lot of people. It's transporting, for sure. It can take you right back, years back, to the very moment certain things happened in your life. It's uplifting, it's encouraging, it's strengthening.”

Fe: Extraverted feelers care a lot about others, and would rather create a harmonious environment than push to get their way. “I think it would be a far greater world if people were kinder and more respectful to each other,” Aretha once said.

Ti: Introverted thinkers tend to have their own, unique way of looking at the world. They are thoughtful about their skills, and devote a lot of time to that improvement. For Aretha, being a performer was not about being seen, but rather about working on her craft: “We didn't have music videos,” she said. “You weren't an overnight sensation. You had to work at it and learn your craft: how to take care of your voice, how to pace your concerts, all that trial and error.”

Ne: Aretha had extraverted intuition as an inferior trait, which is all about seeing possibilities -- and diametrically opposed to her dominant introverted sensing trait. You can see the intuitive force in the evolution of her work, however. She was able to successfully crossover from gospel to pop, and had different eras of her music with different record labels (Columbia, Atlantic, Arista, etc.).

Fast Facts on ISFJs:

  • ISFJs are the most common type in the U.S., and the most common type among women
  • 14% of the general population; 19% of women and 8% of men
  • Described commonly as “Conservative,” “Conventional, “Guarded,” “Reserved”
  • Among the types to most commonly believe in a higher spiritual power
  • More likely than average to experience chronic pain and heart disease
  • One of the top 2 most common types to major in “education” in college
  • Overrepresented among MBAs and male small business owners
  • Personal values: “Happy family,” “Health” “Spirituality”
Jenna Birch

Jenna Birch is a content and brand strategist for startups, entrepreneurs and VCs. Before moving into consulting, she was a prolific journalist for national magazines and websites, and author of The Love Gap: A Radical Plan to Win in Life & Love (Grand Central Publishing). Her work has been published in The Washington Post, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Harper's Bazaar, InStyle, HuffPost, and more. She lives in Ann Arbor, MI with her EXTP fiancé and the best pup around, Ollie.

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