She influenced generations of female singers with unforgettable hits including “Respect” (1967), “Natural Woman” (1968) and “I Say a Little Prayer” (1968). She passed away at home in Detroit from advanced pancreatic cancer.
The multiple Grammy winner cemented her place in US music history with a powerful, bell-clear voice that stretched over four octaves. In a career crossing generations, her hits spanned from soul and R&B, to gospel and pop.
Franklin passed away at 9:50 am (1350 GMT) surrounded by her family and loved ones, her family said in a statement issued by her publicist.
“It is with deep and profound sadness that we announce the passing of Aretha Louise Franklin, the Queen of Soul,” the statement said.
“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.”
The family thanked fans around the world for their “incredible outpouring of love” since it first emerged earlier this week that she was gravely ill.
“We have felt your love for Aretha and it brings us comfort to know that her legacy will live on.”
Fans mourning the death of Franklin left balloons, flowers and mementos at Detroit’s New Bethel Baptist Church, where as a child the star kicked off her storied career singing gospel.
And in California similar tributes quickly amassed on Franklin’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The 18-time Grammy award winner inspired multiple singers during her five-decade career from pop diva Mariah Carey and the late Whitney Houston, to Alicia Keys, Beyonce, Mary J. Blige and the late Amy Winehouse.
In 1987, she became the first woman ever inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2010, Rolling Stone magazine put her at the top of its list of the 100 greatest singers of all time, male or female.
She performed at the inaugurations of presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, singing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” at the investiture of the country’s first African-American head of state.
In a heartfelt tribute from the Obamas, the former president and his wife Michelle praised Franklin’s “unmatched musicianship,” which they said “helped define the American experience.”
“Every time she sang, we were all graced with a glimpse of the divine,” the Obamas said in a statement. “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.”
US President Donald Trump called the singer “terrific,” saying she “brought joy to millions of lives and her extraordinary legacy will thrive and inspire many generations to come.”
Clinton and his wife, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, on Thursday hailed her as “one of America’s greatest national treasures.”
“For more than 50 years, she stirred our souls. She was elegant, graceful, and utterly uncompromising in her artistry,” they said.
Singers and musicians quickly flooded social media in mourning her passing, which came on the same day that fellow US music giant Elvis Presley died at his home in Memphis, the city where Franklin was born, 41 years ago.
Paul McCartney called Franklin an inspiration and “the Queen of our souls,” while Diana Ross hailed her “wonderful golden spirit.”
Fellow soul superstar Patti LaBelle praised Franklin as “a rare treasure whose unmatched musical genius helped craft the soundtrack to the lives of so many.”
Franklin — who was widely known by only her first name, in true diva style — rose from singing gospel in her father’s church to regularly topping rhythm and blues and pop charts in the 1960s and 1970s.
Other than “Respect,” her powerful cover of the Otis Redding tune that became a feminist anthem and her calling card, Franklin had dozens of Top 40 singles, according to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Other hits include “Day Dreaming” (1972), “Jump to It” (1982), “Freeway of Love” (1985), and “A Rose Is Still A Rose” (1998). A 1986 duet with George Michael, “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me),” hit number one in several countries.
Franklin’s declining health was first disclosed on the Showbiz 411 website late Sunday by Roger Friedman, a reporter and family friend.
The Detroit News later reported that she was in hospice care, as artists from across the musical spectrum offered well wishes to the singer who lived in Detroit — the Motor City, home of Motown — most of her life.
In 2005, Franklin was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the highest award for an American civilian — by then-president George W. Bush.
In 2010, she suffered serious health problems, but continued to perform until late last year, singing last in November 2017 for the Elton John AIDS Foundation in New York. That same year, Detroit named a street after her. DM
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