17 Aug 2018

Aretha Franklin dies at 76

9:04 am on 17 August 2018

Legendary singer Aretha Franklin, whose powerful voice made her the long-reigning "Queen of Soul", has died at the age of 76.

Aretha Franklin performs onstage at a concert during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.

Aretha Franklin performs at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival. Photo: AFP

The singer was diagnosed with cancer in 2010 and announced last year she was retiring from music.

Franklin had more than 20 US chart hits over a music career spanning seven decades.

The star gave her final performance last November at a gala in New York held in aid of the Elton John Aids Foundation.

In a statement, her family 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."

Read more on Aretha Franklin and her music:

Former US President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, issued a statement saying Franklin "helped us feel more connected to each other, more hopeful, more human. And sometimes she helped us just forget about everything else and dance."

Franklin's father was a Baptist preacher in Detroit, and the gospel singing she heard in his church was her musical foundation. Her uniquely emotional and powerful voice would put her at the forefront of 1960s soul music along with Otis Redding, Sam Cooke and Wilson Pickett.

Franklin was active in the US civil rights movement and sang at the funeral of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr in 1968.

She also performed at the presidential inaugurations of Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. In 1987, she became the first woman voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Rolling Stone magazine in 2010 named her the No. 1 singer of the rock era.

Aretha Franklin 1968 in Stockholm Sweden

Aretha Franklin 1968 in Stockholm Sweden Photo: AFP

Carole King, who co-wrote the classic '(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman' wrote on Twitter of her "respect and gratitude".

Fellow singer Diana Ross tweeted: "I'm sitting in prayer for the wonderful golden spirit Aretha Franklin."

Sir Elton John led the tributes on his Instagram account, writing: "The loss of Aretha Franklin is a blow for everybody who loves real music. Her voice was unique, her piano playing underrated... I adored her and worshipped her talent."

Sir Paul McCartney wrote: "Let's all take a moment to give thanks for the beautiful life of Aretha Franklin, the Queen of our souls, who inspired us all for many many years. She will be missed but the memory of her greatness as a musician and a fine human being will live with us forever."

US President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter: "She was a great woman, with a wonderful gift from God, her voice. She will be missed!"

Aretha Franklin sings in this undated handout photo from the New Bethel Baptist Church.

Aretha Franklin pictured in an undated handout photo from the New Bethel Baptist Church Photo: AFP / New Bethel Baptist Church

Raised with gospel

Franklin was born March 25, 1942, in Memphis, Tennessee, and raised in Detroit. Her father, the Reverend C.L. Franklin, was respected as a civil rights leader, an early advocate of "black pride" and a friend of Martin Luther King, Jr.

But Rev. Franklin had also been arrested for drug possession and, under unexplained circumstances, his wife left him and their five children when Aretha was six. Four years later, Franklin's mother died and Aretha avoided discussing her parents publicly.

Franklin started touring as a teenager in her father's gospel show. She got a musical education from gospel greats: the Staple Singers, the Soul Stirrers, James Cleveland and The Mighty Clouds of Joy.

She also came to know jazz and R&B greats invited to the family home, including Cooke, Art Tatum, Dinah Washington, Fats Domino and Bobby Bland.

By 17, she had given birth to two children and later had two other sons. First married to Ted White, who became her manager and publicly abused her, Franklin later married actor Glynn Turman in 1978, but they divorced in 1984.

A move to Atlantic Records in 1966 saw Franklin paired with the famed Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, prompting some of her most soulful and fieriest performances.

By 1968 she was renowned throughout America and Europe as "Lady Soul" - a symbol of black pride who appeared on the cover of Time and was given an award by King.

After an eye-catching cameo in cult comedy The Blues Brothers, she scored a number of big hits in the 1980s including Who's Zooming Who? and the George Michael duet I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me).

Franklin, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005, was the subject of a singing tribute at the February 2011 Grammy Awards ceremony and a Carnegie Hall tribute concert in early 2017. She did not attend either.

Franklin did not perform regularly for many years, partly because of an aversion to flying after a rough trip in 1982. Instead, she traveled in a customized bus. She often had to cancel shows for health reasons.

In February 2017, she said she would keep recording but retire from touring after a limited run of concerts marking a new album that year, "A Brand New Me," which featured her doing some of her biggest hits with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

She performed "Natural Woman" at the Kennedy Center Honors in December 2015 in a tribute to songwriter Carole King. Her last live performance was 7 Nov, 2017, for the Elton John AIDS Foundation gala in New York.

She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush in 2005, when she was saluted for "capturing the hearts of millions of Americans".

- BBC / Reuters