Aretha Franklin, whose impassioned, riveting voice made her a titan of American music, has died after a battle with advanced pancreatic cancer, her publicist told the Associated Press. She was 76.
Franklin was the loftiest name in the rich history of Detroit music and one of the transcendent cultural figures of the 20th Century. Raised on an eclectic musical diet of gospel, R&B, classical and jazz, she blossomed out of her father’s Detroit church to become the most distinguished female black artist of all time, breaking boundaries while placing nearly 100 hits on Billboard’s R&B chart — 20 of them reaching No. 1.
The Queen of Soul, as she was coronated in the 1960s, leaves a sprawling legacy of classic songs that includes “Respect,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” “Chain of Fools,” “Baby I Love You,” “Angel,” “Think,” “Rock Steady,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Freeway of Love,” along with a bestselling gospel catalog.
Her death follows several years of painstakingly concealed medical issues, which led to regular show cancellations and extended absences from the public eye.
Visibly feeble but still summoning magic from her voice, Franklin played her final Detroit show in June 2017, an emotion-packed concert for thousands at an outdoor festival downtown.
She ended the performance with a then-cryptic appeal to the hometown crowd: “Please keep me in your prayers.”
The Queen of Soul sang for presidents and royalty, and befriended high-profile leaders such as the Revs. Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesse Jackson. Amid the global glitter and acclaim, she remained loyal to her home region, living in the Detroit area for decades, including the Bloomfield Hills house where she moved in the late ‘80s.
“My roots are there. The church is there. My family is there,” she told the Free Press in 2011. “I like the camaraderie in Detroit, how we’ll rally behind something that’s really worthy and come to each other’s assistance.”
Franklin’s voice was a singular force, earning her a multitude of laurels through the decades, including 18 Grammy Awards, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and honorary doctorates from a host of institutions. In 1987, she became the first female artist inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and seven years later, at age 52, the youngest recipient of a Kennedy Center Honor.
Franklin topped Rolling Stone magazine’s 100 Greatest Singers of All Time list, and her signature hit, “Respect,” ranked No. 4 on “Songs of the Century,” a 1999 project by the National Endowment for the Arts. She performed at the inaugurations of U.S. presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, garnering global attention at the latter for her big fur hat with its crystal-studded bow — a piece of wardrobe now in the Smithsonian Institution.
Franklin’s influence is vast and indelible. It’s most obviously heard in the myriad voices that followed her, from Mary J. Blige to Adele, and even male singers like Luther Vandross.