The ‘Queen of Soul’ passed away from advanced pancreatic cancer, her publicist has confirmed
“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,” Franklin’s family said in a statement.
Aretha Louise Franklin sold over 75 million records over her career, won 18 Grammy awards, and was the first woman to be inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame. Dubbed the ‘Queen of Soul’, her signature song, a 1967 rendition of Otis Redding’s “Respect”, was so powerful that Redding himself stopped playing his version after hearing it. Franklin’s version become an anthem for the American Civil Rights and Women’s Rights movements.
Franklin was born March 25, 1942, in Memphis, Tennessee. She started gospel singing as a child at the church of her father, Clarence LaVaughn Franklin, a preacher. Her father was famous in his own right, and when the family moved to Detroit while Aretha Franklin was a child, their house often hosted figures like Nat King Cole, Martin Luther King Jr, and Mahalia Jackson.
C.L. Franklin began managing his daughter, releasing her debut album Songs of Faith in 1956 with JVB Records. In 1966, she signed to Atlantic, releasing a string of singles with the label, including “Respect”, “A Natural Woman”, and “I Say A Little Prayer”. In 1972, her album Amazing Grace highlighted her gospel background.
In 1994, she received a lifetime achievement award at the Grammys. In 2005, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2009, for the inauguration of Barack Obama, she performed “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee”. She would perform for the Obamas more times, notably bringing Barack Obama to tears at the Kennedy Centre Honours in 2015.
In 2014, she released an album of covers from across the soul spectrum – not just Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U”, but also Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”. In 2017, she announced her retirement from touring, though said she’d continue to work on music. Before her death, she had been working on an album featuring collaborations with Stevie Wonder, Elton John, and Lionel Richie. A biopic, Queen of Soul, will star Jennifer Hudson, who Franklin considered one of her first choices to play her.
Besides her musical legacy, which has been acknowledged as an influence on artists like Beyoncé and Mariah Carey, she was also a vocal political activist, performing at Martin Luther King’s funeral and offering to post bail for Dr. Angela Davis.
Franklin is survived by her four sons and several grandchildren.