Aretha Franklin — the first woman to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, dubbed the Queen of Soul for powerful anthems like “Respect” and “Chain of Fools” — died on Thursday morning at her home in Detroit. She was 76 years old.
Franklin died of advanced pancreatic cancer, the singer’s publicist said in a family 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 family said.
Earlier this week, members of her family had told NBC affiliate WDIV-TV in Detroit that she was “gravely ill.” The station reported that Franklin had asked for prayers.
Born March 25, 1942, in Memphis, Tennessee, to C.L. Franklin, the most prominent black Baptist preacher in America during the mid-20th century, and a gospel singer, Aretha Louise Franklin began performing in front of her father’s congregation at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, which she considered her hometown. She became a star on gospel caravan tours with her father, a compelling preacher known as “The Million Dollar Voice,” who became her manager when she was 14.
Franklin released her first album, “Songs of Faith,” in 1956, scoring regional hits with two gospel songs and occasionally touring with The Soul Stirrers, whose star was Sam Cooke.
In 1960, Franklin followed Cooke into secular music, recording a handful of Top 10 hits on the R&B charts. It took seven years and a switch of labels, to Atlantic Records, however, for her career to fully blossom in 1967, beginning with “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” which hit No. 1 on the R&B charts and gave her first Top 10 pop single.
That April saw the release of “Respect,” a cover of an Otis Redding song with a feminist bent and an irresistible hook — the simple spelling “R-E-S-P-E-C-T,” which Franklin added. It quickly rocketed to No. 1 on the pop charts. Rolling Stone magazine later declared it the fifth-greatest song of all time.
The song became a soundtrack for both the civil rights and female-empowerment movements, and no one was more surprised by its success than Franklin herself.
“I was stunned when it went to number one,” Franklin told Elle Magazine in April 2016. “And it stayed number one for a couple weeks. It was the right song at the right time.”
“Respect” earned Franklin the first two of her 18 Grammy Awards, culminating in a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement in 1994. But it was only the beginning of her success.
The following year, Franklin came out with two towering albums, “Lady Soul” and “Aretha Now,” introducing timeless hits like “Chain of Fools” and “I Say a Little Prayer.” More big — and culturally significant — albums followed through the 1970s, highlighted by “Young, Gifted & Black,” winner of the 1972 Grammy for female R&B performance, and a return to her gospel roots, the double-platinum “Amazing Grace.”
Other Top 10 singles included “Spanish Harlem,” “Think” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” written by Carole King. Franklin performed it at the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors in Washington before an audience that included King, President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama — drawing a tear from the president and sheer elation from King.
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