After grim reports about her health surfaced earlier this week, Aretha Franklin, the legendary Queen Of Soul, has died. Her family said in a statement that she died at her home in Detroit on Thursday due to advanced pancreatic cancer of the neuroendocrine type. She was 76.
The family released this statement:
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. 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. As we grieve, we ask that you respect our privacy during this difficult time.
"Music does a lot of things for a lot of people. It's transporting, for sure. It can take you right back, years back, to the very moment certain things happened in your life. It's uplifting, it's encouraging, it's strengthening."
Thank you, Aretha Franklin. #RIP pic.twitter.com/totP8eDuHD
— Tribeca (@Tribeca) August 16, 2018
Franklin was born in Memphis and raised in Detroit by a gospel singer mother and reverend father. In 1960, she signed to Columbia and began making jazz-influenced R&B records. She rose to prominence in the late '60s with a series of indelible hits that bridged the gap between rock and soul, and blurred the lines between R&B and pop and gospel. That included unforgettable classics like “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Loved You),” “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man,” “Respect,” “Baby I Love You,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” “Chain of Fools,” “Think,” “I Say a Little Prayer," and “Bridge Over Troubled Water."
Throughout her six decade music career, Franklin sold more than 75 million albums, won 18 Grammy Awards and recorded 20 No. 1 R&B hits (she is tied with Stevie Wonder for the most hits in that category). In 1987, she became the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; she was also given The Recording Academy's Grammy Legend Award and a Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2010, Rolling Stone named her the greatest singer of all time, with Mary J. Blige paying tribute to her: "Aretha is a gift from God. When it comes to expressing yourself through song, there is no one who can touch her. She is the reason why women want to sing."
She sang at Martin Luther King’s funeral in 1968, and at the Presidential inaugurations of Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. She had a scene-stealing turn in The Blues Brothers, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005. She also loved Applebees.
— DJ Judd (@DJJudd) August 16, 2018
Elton John told Billboard in 2003, “She is the greatest soul singer ever—and one of the most underrated pianists.” Former Atlantic label boss Clive Davis said in a 2015 interview, “Aretha belongs to all-time hits that still resonate."
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 pic.twitter.com/jW4Gpwfdts
— Paul McCartney (@PaulMcCartney) August 16, 2018
The NY Times cut to the core of her musical persona and power in their obit:
In her indelible late-1960s hits, Ms. Franklin brought the righteous fervor of gospel music to secular songs that were about much more than romance. Hits like “Do Right Woman — Do Right Man,” “Think,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and “Chain of Fools” defined a modern female archetype: sensual and strong, long-suffering but ultimately indomitable, loving but not to be taken for granted.
When Ms. Franklin sang “Respect,” the Otis Redding song that became her signature, it was never just about how a woman wanted to be greeted by a spouse coming home from work. It was a demand for equality and freedom and a harbinger of feminism, carried by a voice that would accept nothing less.
David Remnick wrote of Franklin in The New Yorker today, "Franklin’s voice was a pure, painful, and unforgettable expression of American history and American feeling, the collective experience of black Americans and her own life," he wrote. "Prayer, love, desire, joy, despair, rapture, feminism, Black Power—it is hard to think of a performer who provided a deeper, more profound reflection of her times. What’s more, her gift was incomparable." (Remnick wrote movingly about Franklin in 2016 as well.)
Some other links worth reading today: Franklin took the Proust Questionnaire in Vanity Fair back in the early '00s. AJC wrote about how she used her voice to "deliver music for social justice." The Ringer has a lovely tribute to her, as did The Guardian. Steven Hyden wrote about his favorite Franklin live recording, and Stereogum counted down 20 great Franklin moments.
Amanda Petrusich wrote about her eternal spirit and ability to answer grief with something that resembles love: "And she did it while being tough and self-assured, confident in both her capacity and her worth, thus obliterating the terrible, pervasive presumption that a woman can’t be tender and oh-my-goodness mighty at the same time."
— Jane Coaston (@cjane87) August 16, 2018
Here she is performing at President Obama's inauguration:
Aretha Franklin singing at President Obama's inauguration. RIP the Queen of Soul. pic.twitter.com/3PT9Kp9zit
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) August 16, 2018
She reinterpreted Adele's "Rolling In The Deep" on Letterman a few years back:
And her breathtaking performance of classic "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2015:
Here she is performing at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2017:
Here was her last live performance, from the Elton John AIDS Foundation in New York which took place on November 2nd, 2017:
Franklin underwent surgery for pancreatic cancer in 2010, and had battled health issues in recent years, cancelling several planned concerts earlier this year as a result. In 2017, she said she was planning on recording one more (as yet unreleased) album (with multiple tracks produced by Stevie Wonder), perform a select number of performances, then retire from music. "I feel very, very enriched and satisfied with respect to where my career came from, and where it is now. I'll be pretty much satisfied, but I'm not going to go anywhere and just sit down and do nothing. That wouldn't be good either."
With reports about her declining health all throughout the week, New Yorkers put up a makeshift tribute to Franklin at the Franklin Street subway station in Tribeca on Tuesday.
ARETHA LIVE AT FILLMORE WEST is one of the greatest live albums ever recorded. Franklin just slays the crowd with a great early '70s set. I don't think I realized it was filmed, but the full show is here: https://t.co/blHWmT6B7B
— Keith Phipps (@kphipps3000) August 16, 2018
— Mark Anthony Neal (@NewBlackMan) August 16, 2018