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Aretha Franklin, Queen of Soul, dies aged 76

"One of the most iconic voices in music history" has passed away, bringing down the curtain on a six-decade career in the spotlight

By IQ on 16 Aug 2018

Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin (1942–2018)

image © Sony Music Entertainment

Aretha Franklin, soul music superstar, voice of black America and one of the best-selling artists of all time, has passed away aged 76.

In a statement issued through her publicist, Gwendolyn Quinn, the late singer’s family say she died this morning at home in Detroit, “surrounded by family and loved ones”, after losing her battle with pancreatic cancer. “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,” reads the family 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.”

Born in Memphis, Tenessee, in 1942, Franklin released her first debut album, the gospel LP Songs of Faith, in 1956, before moving successfully into secular music in the early ’60s. She sold more than 75 million records worldwide over her six decades in music, with top-ten hits including ‘(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman’, ‘Think’, ‘I Say a Little Prayer’, ‘Respect’, ‘Chain of Fools’ and Otis Redding cover ‘Respect’.

In addition to her chart success, Franklin was also a campaigner for civil rights for black Americans – when she was inducted in the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2012, she was hailed as “the voice of the civil-rights movement” and a “symbol of black equality” – and an electrifying live performer.

Franklin’s live career was nothing short of outstanding. Having begun touring at the age of 14 with her father’s “gospel caravan” tours of churches, by the mid-60s, signed to Columbia, she was attracting six-figure fees from countless performances in nightclubs and theatres.

“Aretha Franklin was one of the most iconic voices in music history and a brilliant artist”

In 1971, Franklin became the first R&B performer to headline historic San Francisco venue Fillmore West, later releasing the live album Aretha Live at Fillmore West. As her focus shifted towards concerts and special appearances during the course of her career, highlights included subbing for opera star Luciano Pavarotti at the 1998 Grammy Awards to sing the aria ‘Nessun Dorma’.

Franklin sang at the funeral of Martin Luther King Jnr, the inaugurations of two US presidents (Bill Clinton and Barack Obama) and for Pope Francis during his US visit in 2005. One of her most memorable performances was just three years ago at the 2015 Kennedy Center when she sang Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s ‘(You Make Me Feel) A Natural Woman’ to a standing ovation from presidents and celebrities alike.

While Franklin had refused to fly for nearly 40 years and so confined touring to the US, her 1968 European shows (which included the Olympia in Paris, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and Konserthuset in Stockholm) included a number of unforgettable performances including a timeless rendition of Willie Nelson’s ‘Night Life’.

Her final performance was for the Elton John Aids Foundation’s 25th anniversary gala at the Church of St John the Divine in New York on 7 November. John today paid tribute on social media saying: “We were witnessing the greatest soul artist of all time. I adored her and worshipped her talent… The whole world will miss her but will always rejoice in her remarkable legacy. The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen.”

According to Showbiz411, on 18 November 2018, Madison Square Garden will host “Clive Davis Presents: A Tribute to Aretha Franklin,” presented with Live Nation. The Sony executive had proposed an all-star tribute to the late singer in June to commemorate an extraordinary 60 years in show business.

“Her distinctive sound, unforgettable recordings and giving spirit will continue to be celebrated worldwide”

“Aretha Franklin was an incomparable artist who came to be recognised as one of the most profound voices in music,” comments Neil Portnow, president and CEO of the Recording Academy.

“During her six-decade career Aretha earned 44 Grammy nominations, 18 Grammy Awards and was recognised by the Recording Academy on several occasions for her remarkable accomplishments as an artist and philanthropist.”

He continues: “Her distinctive sound, unforgettable recordings and giving spirit will continue to be celebrated worldwide. Aretha will be dearly missed, and our thoughts go out to her loved ones during this difficult time.”

A statement from Live Nation says Franklin’s “legacy will live on through [her] music”:


A spokesperson for Sony Music, one of Franklin’s labels, adds: “Aretha Franklin was one of the most iconic voices in music history and a brilliant artist. Over the course of her decades-long career, which included many years with the Sony Music family, she inspired countless musicians and fans, and created a legacy that paved the way for a long line of strong female artists. Sony Music joins the world in mourning her passing.”

“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,” continue Franklin’s family. “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.”


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