Aretha Franklin, the queen of soul and all hearts, has died at the age of 76, the Associated Press and other outlets reported Thursday morning.
Her representative told the AP Franklin had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, an illness she denied having in recent years despite a history of cancer in her family.
A singer’s singer and a soul musicians’ soul musician, she earned praise and admiration from her fellow performers throughout her career.
“I don’t know anybody that can sing a song like Aretha Franklin,” Ray Charles once said. “Nobody. Period.”
In her biography, written by Mark Bego, she talked about a song’s relatability as an important entry point for her.
“If a song’s about something I’ve experienced or that could’ve happened to me, it’s good. But if it’s alien to me, I couldn’t lend anything to it… I look for something meaningful. When I go into the studio, I put everything into it. Even the kitchen sink.”
In her last days, she was visited by Stevie Wonder and Rev. Jessie Jackson, while countless tributes poured in. Earlier this week, Clive Davis, who signed Franklin to Arista Records in 1980, announced a November tribute concert to Franklin at Madison Square Garden. Bill and Hillary Clinton tweeted well wishes; Beyonce and Jay-Z dedicated their concert in Detroit on Monday night to Franklin as she was released from a hospital and taken home in hospice care.
Franklin is survived by four sons: guitar player and singer Ted White Jr.; singer Edward Franklin, who occasionally appeared onstage with his mother; Christian rapper Kecalf Franklin; and her first son, Clarence Franklin, whom she had as a teenager.
— Bif Naked (@bifnaked) August 16, 2018
The greatest voice in American popular music has been stilled. Our beloved #ArethaFranklin has gone. For me, she was a musical lighthouse, guiding and inspiring with every note. I loved her so and love her still. Goodbye, Queen of Soul.
— Bette Midler (@BetteMidler) August 16, 2018
— Debbie Allen (@msdebbieallen) August 16, 2018
United DJs join the whole music family to pay homage to one of our great singers, #ArethaFranklin The most-charted female singer in the US with 112 chart singles. 18 Grammys the Rock & Roll & Gospel Halls of Fame. Truly the Queen of Soul. pic.twitter.com/eQPqBkJetK
— United DJs Radio (@uniteddjsradio) August 16, 2018
“Looking out on the morning rain
I used to feel so uninspired
And when I knew
I had to face another day
Lord, it made me feel so tired
Before the day I met you
Life was so unkind
But you’re the key to
My peace of mind.”
Her voice/swagger was peerless.
Thank you, #ArethaFranklin pic.twitter.com/5gp0OP10Jf
— Ava DuVernay (@ava) August 16, 2018
Aretha Franklin “The Queen of Soul” has inspired and touched many lives. Her legacy will live on and we will always have the music. Sending my condolences and thoughts to the family.
Rest In Peace. ❤️ #ArethaFranklin pic.twitter.com/Fa1LgKtuHN
— Mariah_Carey (@Mariah_Carey25) August 16, 2018
— Smokey Robinson (@smokey_robinson) August 16, 2018
The heavenly choir just got an angel. #ArethaFranklin shared her talent with the world and devoted her life to change. Her music took us through many storms.
I will always love Miss Franklin. It was a great honor to have met her many years ago.
Rest in Power!
— Donna Brazile (@donnabrazile) August 16, 2018
Aretha helped define the American experience. 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. May the Queen of Soul rest in eternal peace. pic.twitter.com/bfASqKlLc5
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 16, 2018
The second line honoring Aretha Franklin on its final circle. You can hear the power voice of @TonyaBoydCannon coming from the center singing “Roll for Aretha.”#RipArethaFranklin pic.twitter.com/LzZc91yESy
— Michael Tisserand (@m_tisserand) August 17, 2018
Watching Aretha Franklin perform at the White House, and on so many other occasions, made time stand still. @BarackObama and I are holding Aretha’s family in our hearts right now. She will forever be our Queen of Soul. pic.twitter.com/NhHsbKijpl
— Michelle Obama (@MichelleObama) August 16, 2018
Many reporters noted that Franklin died on the same that that Elvis Presley did, 41 years apart.
Word came out Monday morning that Franklin was gravely ill in a Detroit hospital.
Details were few but concerns were many: in recent years, she’s cancelled several tour dates due to health concerns, including two dates in New Jersey in March. Her last performance was November 2, 2017, at a fundraiser for Elton John’s AIDS Foundation in New York; her last public performance was last August at the Mann Center in Philadelphia.
Update: As of 9 p.m. EST Monday, Franklin has been released to hospice care, CNN reports. She is now at her home in Detroit, instead of a hospital where she was surrounded by her family Monday morning.
Franklin’s is one of the most celebrated voices, careers and lives in music, from humble beginnings to not just rock star status but national treasure. She sang at President Obama’s first inauguration, performing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” and later brought him, and nearly everyone else in the room, singing Carole King’s “Natural Woman” as King was feted at the Kennedy Center Honors.
Franklin announced in February 2018 she was working toward retiring from performing after her doctors recommended she stay off the road.
From the pulpit to the studio
Aretha Louise Franklin was born in Memphis in 1942, the daughter of a gospel singer and pianist mother and a preacher father known for his singing voice. She stayed with her father in Detroit when her parents split up; her mother died when Aretha was just 10.
She was born to and for the stage, starting to perform in her early teens as part of her father’s gospel programs around the country. Her first album, The Gospel Sound of Aretha Franklin, was released when she was just 14.
It was around this time that Franklin had her first child, Clarence Franklin Jr. Her second, Edwin Franklin, was born two years later.
When she was 18, Franklin moved to New York City with her father’s blessing to pursue a career in secular music, as she’d been contacted by several labels including Motown and RCA, but she signed with Columbia Records. Her first non-gospel album, Aretha was released in 1961 when she was 19 years old. Incredible.
Setting the world on fire
In 1966, she switched paths, signing with Atlantic Records and worked with producer Jerry Wexler, who helped her cultivate her voice and define her singing style and material. In 1967 she recorded “Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” backed by the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, including Duane Allman and Eric Clapton, which would become her first Top 10 hit.
Then she recorded “Respect” for the same album and turned the world on its head. The Otis Redding song earned her two Grammys, a Number 1 hit on both the R&B and pop charts and opened the doors for a lustrous career that earned her the distinction of being the first woman inducted in to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as part of its second class in 1987.
Along the way, Franklin was selected for some of the United States’ most important moments. She sang at the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968. He was a friend of her father’s. During the ceremony, she sang “Precious Lord.” She also performed the national anthem at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. In 1977, she performed at the inauguration of Jimmy Carter and, in 1993, she performed at the inauguration of Bill Clinton.
In the meantime, she released what would become the best-selling gospel album for a long stretch, 1972’s Amazing Grace, inspired by the death of Mahalia Jackson. She had a knock-out cameo as a waitress in The Blues Brothers movie, singing “Think” while John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd danced like maniacs around her.
Franklin returned to Detroit in 1979 after a burglary attempt at her father’s home left him in a coma. He died in 1982.
An incredible career
As one of the most honored musicians in Grammy history, Franklin had hits in the ‘50s through the ‘00s.
- 20 Number 1 and 45 Top 40 singles, more than any other woman
- 18 Grammys
- 11 Best Female R&B Vocal Performance awards, more than any other woman, including winning the award eight consecutive times between 1968 and 1975, the prime of her career
- The distinction of being the second African American woman on the cover of Time
- An honorary Doctorate in Music from Yale
- The Presidential Medal of Freedom, bestowed by George W. Bush
- Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award
- Kennedy Center Honors distinction
- Second woman inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame
There’s a biopic in the works. Franklin personally picked Jennifer Hudson to play her.
Love pours in for the Queen
The prayers and words of support filled Twitter Monday:
My prayers are with Aretha Franklin & her family during this difficult time 🙏🏾 LOOK BELOW @ what I tweeted at the top of the year we MUST CELEBRATE the Living Legends while they are here to see it. So many have given us decades of Timeless music…❤️ https://t.co/VVacLxcMSI
— Missy Elliott (@MissyElliott) August 13, 2018
— Ron Sexsmith (@RonSexsmith) August 13, 2018
Praying for Aretha Franklin and her family right now! ❤️🙏🏽
— Ciara (@ciara) August 13, 2018
We’re praying that Aretha Franklin can pull though and will keep you updated with more details about her condition as they become available.https://t.co/uvsxQDTw9q
— BET (@BET) August 13, 2018
Many of you are asking me to confirm the health status of @ArethaFranklin. Folks, I’ve known for several months. The Queen is surrounded by loved ones. That’s all I will say for now. Please keep her, the family and her longtime support staff in your prayers. pic.twitter.com/F6nMjHQjlP
— rolandsmartin (@rolandsmartin) August 13, 2018
— Mariah Carey (@MariahCarey) August 13, 2018
Let's say a little prayer for Aretha https://t.co/1dpyMa4wD4
— Billy Bragg (@billybragg) August 13, 2018
Never forget that Aretha Franklin saved the 1998 Grammys when she stepped in for Luciano Pavarotti at the last minute to perform "Nessun Dorma." A PERFORMER. pic.twitter.com/CFmkUxMOya
— Michael Blackmon (@blackmon) August 13, 2018
just found this mind blowingly humble letter from Aretha Franklin to Emory Douglas, Minster of Culture for Culture of the Black Panther Party while doing some archival digging: “Once in a while one feels so inadequate in this business” pic.twitter.com/tGh7FXTMxT
— your friend jeff (@muttgomery) August 13, 2018
Vital Aretha: you may think "what" but Keith asked her to do it, & further insisted she play piano on it, knowing that she'd be unstoppable. He was right. Just listen to the authority in those chords: Jumpin' Jack Flash by Aretha Franklin https://t.co/N3yzNWdeQG #NowPlaying
— Caryn Rose (@carynrose) August 13, 2018