Aretha Franklin, the pastor’s daughter who became the undisputed Queen of Soul over a career that spanned more than five decades, has died of advanced pancreatic cancer, ABC News has confirmed.
“It is with deep and profound sadness that we announce the passing of Aretha Louise Franklin, the Queen of Soul,” read a statement from her rep.
“Franklin, 76 years old, passed away on Thursday morning, August 16 at 9:50 a.m. at her home in Detroit, MI, surrounded by family and loved ones. Franklin’s official cause of death was due to advance pancreatic cancer of the neuroendocrine type, which was confirmed by Franklin’s Oncologist, Dr. Philip Phillips of Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit, MI.”
“In one of the darkest moments of our lives, we are not able to find the appropriate words to express the pain in our heart. We have lost the matriarch and rock of our family. The love she had for her children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and cousins knew no bounds,” the statement continued.
“We have been deeply touched by the incredible outpouring of love and support we have received from close friends, supporters and fans all around the world. Thank you for your compassion and prayers. We have felt your love for Aretha and it brings us comfort to know that her legacy will live on. As we grieve, we ask that you respect our privacy during this difficult time.”
Funeral arrangements will be announced in the coming days.
Franklin’s health had been a concern for the past few years, causing a spate of concert cancellations. In 2017, she appeared alarmingly thin but claimed it was a side effect of an unspecified medication. After announcing she was retiring from the road in 2017, Franklin still scheduled shows for 2018 but in March, she was ordered by her doctors to cancel all shows and rest for two months. Despite rumors of serious health problems, she’s never publicly spoken about her ailments.
Merely saying that Franklin was one of the greatest vocalists of all time hardly seems adequate to describe her influence and impact — her voice was officially declared a natural resource by her home state of Michigan. In 2015, President Barack Obama said of Franklin: “Nobody embodies more fully the connection between the African-American spiritual, the blues, R&B, rock and roll — the way that hardship and sorrow were transformed into something full of beauty and vitality and hope.”
Franklin started her music career early, singing gospel music as a child at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit where her father, C.L. Franklin, was minister. In 1960, at the age of 18, she signed to Columbia Records and experienced some success, especially on the R&B charts. But it wasn’t until 1967, when she signed to Atlantic Records, that her career really took off.
For Atlantic, Franklin recorded-now classics “Respect,” “Chain of Fools,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” and “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” which helped her cross over to the pop charts. She won her first Grammy in 1968, the same year she appeared on the cover of TIME magazine. She’d eventually go on to win a total of 20 Grammys, including special Grammys awarded outside of competition, and chart more than 73 songs on the Billboard Hot 100.
Franklin was also part of the civil rights movement of the sixties and has been called “the voice of Black America.” Having met Martin Luther King Jr. through her father, himself a noted civil rights leader, she sang at events with Dr. King and her signature hit, “Respect,” became a civil rights anthem. When King was assassinated in 1968, Franklin performed “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” at his funeral.
Aretha’s hits continued through the ’70s but she left Atlantic records in 1979, signing to Clive Davis’ label, Arista, in 1980. That same year, she made her unforgettable appearance as a waitress in The Blues Brothers. Her 1982 album, Jump to It, returned her to the pop charts for the first time in six years. She remained with Arista for more than 20 years, racking up hits like “Who’s Zoomin’ Who,” “Freeway of Love” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” In 1987, she was the first female performer inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
During this time, Aretha also started recording duets with younger artists, including Eurythmics, Whitney Houston, Michael McDonald, Mary J. Blige, Elton John and George Michael, the latter with whom she scored the 1987 #1 smash duet “I Knew You Were Waiting for Me.”
In 1994, Franklin received the Kennedy Center Honors, at the time the youngest person to be so honored. That same year, she received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. She was also the recipient of the National Medal of the Arts and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, among countless other awards.
While Franklin’s musical output covered rock, soul, pop, R&B and gospel, in 1998 she proved she really could sing anything by belting out the operatic aria “Nessun Dorma” at the Grammy Awards, filling in for an ailing Luciano Pavarotti.
Over the past 15 years, Franklin performed at a number of high-profile events. In 2006, she sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Super Bowl XL in Detroit with Aaron Neville and Dr. John. She performed “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” at President Barack Obama’s inauguration, where her fanciful hat received nearly as much attention as her vocal performance.
Franklin continued to release albums throughout the 2000s, including a 2014 album that featured her singing songs by other female artists including Adele, Barbra Streisand and Alicia Keys. Her version of “Rolling in the Deep” gave her her 100th charted song on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.
Recently, Franklin had spoken of an album she’d been working on with Stevie Wonder, and early in 2018, it was announced that Jennifer Hudson would portray her in a biopic.
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