One of the most influential and legendary musical icons of all time, Aretha Louise Franklin, has passed away after a lengthy bout with cancer.
Franklin, affectionately known to many as the Queen of Soul, passed away on August 16 at her home in Detroit, as confirmed by her publicist Gwendolyn Quinn. She was 76.
According to a statement released by her family, they acknowledge that Franklin’s oncologist, Dr. Philip Phillips of Karamonos Cancer Institute, confirmed that the cause of death was due to “advanced pancreatic cancer of the neuroendocrine type.”
“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,” her 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. As we grieve, we ask that you respect our privacy during this difficult time.”
Aretha Franklin wasn’t just any ol’ musician. She was an icon, a multi-faceted artist, a humanitarian, a civil rights activist, a mother, a grandmother, an actress, a friend, a colleague and a world-renowned figure.
Aretha Franklin was larger than life and one of the world’s most respected musical talents.
From her teenage years until her passing, Franklin has been revered as one of the best singers to ever live. However, her legacy will continue to live on way beyond her passing.
Franklin’s strong and powerful voice was uniquely hers and hard to emulate. She could take a song that someone else originally performed and sing it in such a way that you barely remember the person who originally performed it. The emotion and personal connection you felt when Franklin performed came as a result of her strong spiritual and socially-conscious upbringing.
Born in Memphis, Tennessee, on March 25, 1942, Franklin established her roots early on by singing gospel music in the choir at her father’s church – New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit.
Reverend C.L. Franklin, who was an active and notable civil rights figure during the 1950s and 1960s, was one of the first Baptist ministers to have his own nationally-broadcast radio show. Her mother, Barbara Franklin, was an accomplished piano player and vocalist.
Because of Rev. Franklin’s significant influence, many famous Black musicians and civil rights leaders would flock to the Franklin home. One of those civil rights leaders became a close family friend – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. After Franklin’s mother died of a heart attack before her tenth birthday, she was raised by several women, including her grandmother, Rachel, and legendary gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. It was during this time that Franklin learned how to play the piano by ear. The constant interaction with musical greats such as Jackson and Sam Cooke, to name a few, allowed her to gain exposure to other people in the music industry.
As a young gospel singer, Franklin spent summers staying with Mavis Staples’ family and went on tour with Dr. King to lend her talents to the civil rights struggle.
After turning 18, Franklin told her father that she wanted to follow Cooke in the music business, so she moved to New York. Rev. Jackson agreed and helped her produce a two-song demo that soon caught the attention of legendary record producer and talent scout John Hammond who signed her to her very first recording contract with Columbia Records in 1960.
After six years with Columbia Records, and no major hit records to her name, Franklin chose not to renew her contract with them. She decided to sign with Atlantic Records instead. Franklin finally found commercial success after recording the song, “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” and the rest is history. Unlike her stint at Columbia Records, Franklin had finally found a record company that was able to successfully combine her gospel roots with secular music to make the legendary soul music she became famous for. Franklin is known for legendary classic number-one singles such as “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman,” “Chain of Fools,” “I Say a Little Prayer,” “Think”, “Until You Come Back to Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do),” “Something He Can Feel,” “Freeway of Love,” “Respect,” and many more.
Franklin was versatile. She sang and performed in the classic 1980 movie The Blues Brothers and worked with several other artists such as Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, Whitney Houston, Lauryn Hill, Annie Lennox, George Michael and many more.
One of the most iconic and memorable performances by Franklin was asked to fill in for opera singer Luciano Pavarotti at the 1998 Grammy Awards, with only two hours to prepare. Franklin agreed to sing “Nessun Dorma” and delivered a soul-stirring performance that is considered by many to be one of the best performances in the history of the Grammy Awards.
Throughout her entire music career, Franklin sold over 75 million records and was nominated for a staggering 44 Grammys, winning 18 of them.
Franklin received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1979. In 1987, she became the first woman to ever be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences awarded her a Grammy Legend Award in 1991 and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994. Franklin became the youngest-ever recipient (52) of a Kennedy Center Honor in 1994 and was a recipient of the National Medal of Arts in 1999. She was inducted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame in 2005 and became the second woman inducted to the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005. Also in 2005, President George W. Bush awarded Franklin with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She has performed at the inaugurations of three U.S. Presidents – Jimmy Carter (1977), Bill Clinton (1993) and Barack Obama (2009). Most notably, Franklin also sang with Mahalia Jackson at the memorial service of her longtime family friend, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Franklin leaves behind four children, as well as several grandchildren, nieces, nephews, cousins and friends. According to the family, her funeral has been scheduled for August 31, following a two-day public viewing of her open casket on August 28 and August 29 at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit. The public will be able to view her body in the open casket each of those days from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. A private funeral for family and friends will be held at 10:00 a.m. on August 31 at Greater Grace Temple in Detroit.
Aretha Franklin has left her eternal mark on this world and will never be forgotten.
Again, we say, long live the Queen of Soul!