Aretha Franklin, the undisputed “Queen of Soul” died Thursday at the age of 76 from advanced pancreatic cancer.
Franklin sang with matchless style on such classics as “Think,” ″I Say a Little Prayer” and her signature song, “Respect,” and stood as a cultural icon around the globe.
A publicist told The Associated Press through a family statement that Franklin died at 9:50 a.m. at her home in Detroit.
“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,” the family added. “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.”
Funeral arrangements will be announced in the coming days.
Let’s take a look back at some classic moments over the past few decades of Franklin’s career.
Franklin, who had battled undisclosed health issues in recent years, had in 2017 announced her retirement from touring.
A professional singer and accomplished pianist by her late teens, a superstar by her mid-20s, Franklin had long ago settled any arguments over who was the greatest popular vocalist of her time. Her gifts, natural and acquired, were a multi-octave mezzo-soprano, gospel passion and training worthy of a preacher’s daughter, taste sophisticated and eccentric, and the courage to channel private pain into liberating song.
She recorded hundreds of tracks and had dozens of hits over the span of a half century, including 20 that reached No. 1 on the R&B charts.
Her reputation was defined by an extraordinary run of top 10 smashes in the late 1960s.
Her records sold millions of copies and the music industry couldn’t honor her enough. Franklin won 18 Grammy awards. In 1987, she became the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Fellow singers bowed to her eminence and political and civic leaders treated her as a peer. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was a longtime friend, and she sang at the dedication of King’s memorial, in 2011. She performed at the inaugurations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, and at the funeral for civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks.
Franklin endured the exhausting grind of celebrity and personal troubles dating back to childhood. She was married from 1961 to 1969 to her manager, Ted White, and their battles are widely believed to have inspired her performances on several songs, including “(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone,” ″Think” and her heartbreaking ballad of despair, “Ain’t No Way.”
Her most acclaimed gospel recording came in 1972 with the Grammy-winning album “Amazing Grace,” which was recorded live at New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in South Central Los Angeles and featured gospel legend James Cleveland, along with her own father (Mick Jagger was one of the celebrities in the audience). It became one of of the best-selling gospel albums ever.
Of Franklin’s dozens of hits, none was linked more firmly to her than the funky, horn-led march “Respect” and its spelled out demand for “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.”
In a 2004 interview with the St. Petersburg (Florida) Times, Franklin was asked whether she sensed in the ’60s that she was helping change popular music. “Somewhat, certainly with ‘Respect,’ that was a battle cry for freedom and many people of many ethnicities took pride in that word,” she answered. “It was meaningful to all of us."
President George W. Bush awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in 2005.
At a time of rebellion and division, Franklin’s records were a musical union of the church and the secular, man and woman, black and white, North and South, East and West.
Franklin’s best-known appearance with a president was in January 2009, when she sang “My Country ’tis of Thee” at Obama’s inauguration. She wore a gray felt hat with a huge, Swarovski rhinestone-bordered bow that became an Internet sensation and even had its own website.
Her popularity faded during the 1970s despite such hits as the funky “Rock Steady” and such acclaimed albums as the intimate “Spirit in the Dark.” But her career was revived in 1980 with a cameo appearance in the smash movie “The Blues Brothers” and her switch to Arista Records.
Franklin collaborated with such pop and soul artists as Luther Vandross, Elton John, Whitney Houston and George Michael, with whom she recorded a No. 1 single, “I Knew You Were Waiting (for Me).” Her 1985 album “Who’s Zoomin’ Who” received some of her best reviews and included such hits as the title track and “Freeway of Love."
Critics consistently praised Franklin’s singing but sometimes questioned her material; she covered songs by Stephen Sondheim, Bread, the Doobie Brothers. For Aretha, anything she performed was “soul."
From her earliest recording sessions at Columbia, when she asked to sing “Over the Rainbow,” she defied category.
Fame never eclipsed Franklin’s charitable works, or her loyalty to Detroit.
Franklin sang the national anthem at Super Bowl in her hometown in 2006, after grousing that Detroit’s rich musical legacy was being snubbed when the Rolling Stones were chosen as halftime performers.
She only released a few albums over the past two decades, including “A Rose is Still a Rose,” which featured songs by Sean “Diddy” Combs, Lauryn Hill and other contemporary artists, and “So Damn Happy,” for which Franklin wrote the gratified title ballad. Franklin’s autobiography, “Aretha: From These Roots,” came out in 1999, when she was in her 50s. But she always made it clear that her story would continue.
“Music is my thing, it’s who I am. I’m in it for the long run,” she told The Associated Press in 2008. “I’ll be around, singing, ‘What you want, baby I got it.’ Having fun all the way."
Writing, reporting and information by The Associated Press.
Graham Media Group 2018