Aretha Franklin, the Memphis-born singer known as the Queen of Soul, died Thursday of advanced pancreatic cancer at age 76.
Franklin died Thursday morning at her home in Detroit, according to her representative, Gwendolyn Quinn.
“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,” Franklin’s family said in the statement. “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.
“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. Thank you for your compassion and prayers. We have felt your love for Aretha and it brings us comfort to know that her legacy will live on.”
What a life. What a legacy! <br>So much love, respect and gratitude.<br>R.I.P. <a href=”https://twitter.com/ArethaFranklin?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@ArethaFranklin</a> <a href=”https://t.co/400K1U5IHI”>https://t.co/400K1U5IHI</a>
Salute to the Queen. The greatest vocalist I’ve ever known. 🙏🏽🙏🏽🙏🏽🙏🏽🙏🏽 <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Aretha?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Aretha</a>
Let’s all take a moment to give thanks for the beautiful life of Aretha Franklin, the Queen of our souls, who inspired us all for many many years. She will be missed but the memory of her greatness as a musician and a fine human being will live with us forever. Love Paul <a href=”https://t.co/jW4Gpwfdts”>pic.twitter.com/jW4Gpwfdts</a>
Franklin’s hits, such as Respect, I Say A Little Prayer and Chain Of Fools, are still associated with her powerful gospel voice, more than 40 years after their release.
A Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient in 2005, she said one of the highlights of her career was singing My Country, ‘Tis of Thee at Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration ceremony on Jan. 20, 2009.
In a statement Thursday, Obama and his wife Michelle said: “Through her compositions and unmatched musicianship, 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. She helped us feel more connected to each other, more hopeful, more human. And sometimes she helped us just forget about everything else and dance.
“The gift of her music remains to inspire us all.”
Speaking about Franklin in 2003, media mogul and devoted fan Oprah Winfrey declared that “her voice is literally a national treasure… She is the undisputed Queen of Soul for all times.”
Franklin, who turned 76 in March, had been battling health problems, but continued to perform until as recently as last year. She has been secretive about her health issues, which have included periods out of the spotlight and at least one surgery.
More recently, Franklin continued to book public appearances, but health concerns occasionally forced her to cancel or postpone them.
In the past few years, she regularly cited doctor’s orders for cancelling notable concerts, including a Canada Day show in Toronto on the 150th anniversary of Confederation, and several New Jersey gigs, such as the one to mark her 76th birthday in March.
In early 2017, Franklin announced she was ready to retire from live performing, but didn’t close the door to taking an occasional gig or two. She also said she wanted to continue recording music.
I was fortunate enough to spend time with her and witness her last performance – a benefit for <a href=”https://twitter.com/ejaf?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@ejaf</a> at St John The Divine Cathedral. She was obviously unwell, and I wasn’t sure she could perform. But Aretha did and she raised the roof.
The whole world will miss her but will always rejoice in her remarkable legacy. The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/RIPArethaFranklin?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#RIPArethaFranklin</a> <br><br>Elton xx
Franklin got her musical start singing in the gospel choir with sisters Carolyn and Erma at their father’s church in Detroit, where the family moved when she was a toddler.
She found fame when she signed with Atlantic Records, recording her first hit, I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You), in the late 1960s. The song was followed by a string of soul hits, including Baby I Love You, Think and The House That Jack Built, making her world famous by 1970.
“Aretha’s vocal technique is simple enough: a direct, natural style of delivery that ranges over a full four octaves, and the breath control to spin out long phrases that curl sinuously around the beat and dangle tantalizingly from blue notes,” wrote Time magazine in a 1968 cover story.
This morning my longest friend in this world went home to be with our Father. I will miss her so much but I know she’s at peace. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/QueenOfSoul?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#QueenOfSoul</a> <a href=”https://t.co/UatS3U3YXe”>pic.twitter.com/UatS3U3YXe</a>
Aretha Franklin and Smokey Robinson singing “ooo baby baby” <a href=”https://t.co/OaHYdYrAu6″>pic.twitter.com/OaHYdYrAu6</a>
Franklin’s success continued into the 1970s with hits such as Spanish Harlem, Bridge Over Troubled Water and Day Dreaming.
The singer returned to her native gospel sound with the 1972 album Amazing Grace, which became a top 10 hit, making it one of the most successful gospel-pop crossovers ever.
I’m absolutely devastated by Aretha’s passing. She was truly one of a kind. She was more than the Queen of Soul. She was a national treasure to be cherished by every generation throughout the world. (1/2)
Apart from our long professional relationship, Aretha was my friend. Her loss is deeply profound and my heart is full of sadness. (2/2)
Franklin signed with Arista when her contract with Atlantic Records ended in the late 1970s. She started her own label, Aretha Records, in 2004.
“Fifty-two years of recording for other people, I thought at this point it’s time for you to record for yourself,” she told Time magazine.
“That way there wouldn’t be so many spoons in the soup; there would only be one Aretha spoon.”
Across her career, Franklin racked up 20 No. 1 hits and sold millions of records.
She won 18 Grammy Awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994, and was the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, in 1987.
Rolling Stone magazine named her the greatest singer, male or female, of all time.
Yet the Queen of Soul didn’t shy away from admitting she still got butterflies before some performances, including ahead of Obama’s 2009 inauguration.
“I only had three hours sleep that night,” she told talk show host Rachael Ray in a subsequent interview, saying she was worried the cold weather would hurt her voice.
“I was a little nervous that morning.”
Kept personal life private
Though she was a critical and commercial success, Franklin managed to keep much of her private life a mystery.
Franklin was born in Memphis in 1942. She was mainly raised by her father, Rev. C.L. Franklin, in Detroit.
She had two sons by the time she was 17 (she went on to have two more) and was married twice. There were reports that her first husband hit her in public at least once, and that he shot her production manager.
More tragedy followed when burglars shot her father in 1979. He lapsed into a coma and didn’t reawaken before his death in 1984.
Franklin also suffered from a severe flying phobia after experiencing an uneasy flight in 1982, so mainly used a tour bus to travel.
We were blessed to live in a world with <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/ArethaFranklin?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#ArethaFranklin</a>. Beyond her tremendous singing voice, she was a voice in the Civil Rights Movement. An instrument… <a href=”https://t.co/cTOdv3UGoP”>pic.twitter.com/cTOdv3UGoP</a>
Watching Aretha Franklin perform at the White House, and on so many other occasions, made time stand still. <a href=”https://twitter.com/BarackObama?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@BarackObama</a> and I are holding Aretha’s family in our hearts right now. She will forever be our Queen of Soul. <a href=”https://t.co/NhHsbKijpl”>pic.twitter.com/NhHsbKijpl</a>
Despite her troubles, Franklin’s fans will likely only remember her voice.
“Aretha Franklin’s voice is one of the glories of American music,” Jon Pareles wrote in the New York Times.
“Lithe and sultry, assertive and caressing, knowing and luxuriant, her singing melts down any divisions between gospel, soul, jazz and rock, bringing an improvisatory spirit even to the most cut-and-dried pop material.”
He continued: “Ms. Franklin doesn’t need the tuxedo-clad orchestra or oversize gowns or a slide show to prove she’s a star — she has her voice. There are enough divas in the world already, but there’s only one Aretha Franklin.”
Funeral arrangements will be announced in the coming days, according to Franklin’s family.