ARETHA Franklin, the undisputed “Queen of Soul” who sang with matchless style on such classics as “Think,” “I Say a Little Prayer” and her signature song, “Respect,” died Thursday at age 76 from pancreatic cancer.
She died at her home in Detroit—“one of the darkest moments of our lives,” her family said, in a statement released by publicist Gwendolyn Quinn.
“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,” the family said, adding that funeral arrangements would be announced in coming days.
Franklin, who had battled undisclosed health issues in recent years, announced her retirement from touring last year.
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 was truly one of a kind,” said Clive Davis, the music mogul who brought her to Arista Records. “She was more than the Queen of Soul. She was a national treasure to be cherished by every generation throughout the world.”
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. But her reputation was defined by an extraordinary run of top 10 smashes in the late 1960s, from the morning-after bliss of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” to the wised-up “Chain of Fools” to her unstoppable call for “Respect.”
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.
In 2009, Franklin sang “My Country ’tis of Thee” at President Barack Obama’s inauguration. In 2015, she brought Obama and others to tears with a triumphant performance of “Natural Woman” at a Kennedy Center tribute to the song’s co-writer, Carole King.
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.” The mother of two sons by age 16 (she later had two more), she was often in turmoil as she struggled with her weight, family problems and financial predicaments. Her best known producer, Jerry Wexler, nicknamed her “Our Lady of Mysterious Sorrows.”
Aretha Louise Franklin was born March 25, 1942, in Memphis, Tennessee. The Rev. C.L. Franklin soon moved his family to Buffalo, New York, then to Detroit, where the Franklins settled after the marriage of Aretha’s parents collapsed and her mother Barbara returned to Buffalo.
Franklin was in her early teens when she began touring with her father. Four years later, she signed with Columbia Records producer John Hammond, who called Franklin the most exciting singer he had heard since a vocalist he promoted decades earlier, Billie Holiday.
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.”
Writing in Rolling Stone magazine in 2004, Wexler said: “There are songs that are a call to action. There are love songs. There are sex songs. But it’s hard to think of another song where all those elements are combined.”
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.”
In 1968, Franklin was pictured on the cover of Time magazine and had more than 10 Top 20 hits in 1967 and 1968.
“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.” AP