Rest well, Queen: Aretha Franklin has died at 76

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.

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.

Several reports indicated she’d been in hospice care for at least a week.

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.

Franklin has:

  • 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:

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