The soul and gospel legend Aretha Franklin has died after a battle with pancreatic cancer cancer. Her publicist confirmed the news to the Associated Press, stating that Franklin passed away this morning at her home in Detroit. She was 76.
Franklin was born in Memphis, the daughter of an itinerant-preacher father and a musician mother. When she was a child, her family moved to Detroit, where her father took over the New Bethel Baptist Church. In Detroit, Franklin’s father became famous as a preacher in black Baptist circles, and Franklin learned how to sing and play piano. She began singing in his church, and she soon began touring and recording, releasing her debut album Songs Of Faith when she was 14. (She’d also given birth to two sons by the time she turned 15.)
Around the time she turned 18, Franklin told her father, who was managing her, that she wanted to follow Sam Cooke from the gospel world into the pop one. She signed with Columbia and released “Today I Sing The Blues,” her first pop single, in 1960. As a young singer, Franklin fluidly incorporated blues, jazz, and R&B into her music. She was an instant success on R&B radio and on the touring circuit, but she really exploded into the pop consciousness in 1966, when she moved from Columbia to Atlantic.
At Atlantic, Franklin began releasing a ridiculous barrage of hit singles, including “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You),” “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man,” “Baby I Love You,” and “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman.” Franklin’s version of Otis Redding’s “Respect” went to #1 in 1966 and continues to reverberate as a feminist anthem within popular culture. In 1968, she released two albums, Lady Soul and Aretha Now, which set new standards for raw and primal but accessible soul music. Those two albums included her takes on songs like “Chain Of Fools,” “Think,” “Ain’t No Way,” and “I Say A Little Prayer.” Franklin was huge among black and white audiences, and rock ‘n’ roll artists looked to her as a paragon of authenticity. The Rolling Stones called her their favorite singer, and Dusty Springfield signed to Atlantic because of her.
Franklin’s pop success continued into the ’70s, and she also released the hugely successful gospel album “Amazing Grace” in 1972. She worked with producer Quincy Jones on her album Hey Now Hey and with Curtis Mayfield on the soundtrack to the 1976 movie Sparkle. In the ’80s, she took on more of an elder-legend role, but she still had plenty of success. She had a memorable appearance in The Blues Brothers, sang the theme music for the sitcom A Different World, and scored her second #1 with “I Knew You Were Waiting For Me,” a duet with George Michael. In 1987, she became the first woman inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.
By the ’90s, Franklin was a pop-music eminence. She was honored at the Kennedy Center in 1994 and awarded the National Medal Of Arts in 1998 and the Presidential Medal Of Freedom in 2005. At the 1998 Grammys, she was a last-minute fill-in for the ill Luciano Pavarotti, and her rendition of the opera song “Nessun Dorma” was instantly legendary. That same year, she worked with Lauryn Hill on her single “A Rose Is Still A Rose,” and the album of that title also featured collaborations with people like Puff Daddy and Jermaine Dupri. She sang the National Anthem at the 2006 Super Bowl and “My Country ‘Tis Of Thee” at Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009. Last year, she released A Brand New Me, her final album, and she announced her retirement.
Below, watch some videos of Franklin at work: