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‘Queen of Soul’ Aretha Franklin dies at 76

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images North America/AFP | Aretha Franklin performs at a ceremony for the Elton John AIDS Foundation in New York City on November 7, 2017, her last known performance.

Aretha Franklin, the "Queen of Soul" who sang with matchless style on such classics as "Think," "I Say a Little Prayer" and her signature song, "Respect," has died at age 76 from advanced pancreatic cancer.

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“Aretha Franklin passed Thursday at 9:50 am at her home in Detroit 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 statement added, "Franklin's official cause of death was due to advanced pancreatic cancer of the neuroendocrine type, which was confirmed by Franklin's oncologist, Dr. Philip Phillips of Karmanos Cancer Institute" in Detroit.

‘Aretha helped define the American experience’

Tributes to the legendary soul singer came pouring in from music industry stalwarts as well as US political figures.

“Aretha helped define the American experience. 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. May the Queen of Soul rest in eternal piece,” said former US president Barack Obama in a Twitter post.

Smokey Robinson, Franklin’s longstanding friend who did the hit 1979 version of “Ooo Baby Baby” with her, said, “This morning my longest friend in this world went home to be with our father. I will miss her so much but I know she's at peace."

Berry Gordy, a fellow Detroit native and founder of the Motown record label, said she was “a national treasure to everyone. But to me personally, Aretha Franklin was my dear, dear friend, my homegirl, and I loved her a lot. From seeing her as a baby singing and playing at the piano at her father's home, to her giving a rousing performance at the White House, she has always been amazing. No matter how the music has changed over the years, she remained so relevant."

‘Work ethic, vocal range, passion created the Aretha Franklin we know’

SH: Battling an illness – and singing

Franklin’s death followed a prolonged illness that she battled bravely recovering time and again to resurface and perform over the past few years.

The Showbiz 411 website first reported that Franklin was “gravely ill” on August 12. A day later a representative of her family confirmed the news with Local 4 Detroit.

Fellow music icon Stevie Wonder and civil rights leader Jesse Jackson were among those who visited Franklin in hospital while fans and celebrities paid tribute to her on social media, including former US president Bill Clinton, Mariah Carey, Patti LaBelle and Rod Stewart.

Media reports surfaced in 2010 that she was suffering from pancreatic cancer, reports Franklin subsequently denied. She did, however, admit in 2011 that she had been suffering from an unspecified health problem and had recently undergone surgery that would “add 15 to 20 more years” to her life.

A gospel prodigy

Aretha Franklin was born on March 25, 1942, in Memphis, the daughter of pastor and civil rights activist Clarence La Vaughan “CL” Franklin and gospel singer Barbara Siggers Franklin.

Soon after the family left Memphis for Detroit, where Aretha got her start performing at the church where her father served as minister, New Bethel Baptist.

She recorded gospel tracks that were released by a small label as an album titled “Songs of Faith” in 1956, when Franklin was just 14. She also performed with her father’s travelling revival show, where she crossed paths with such gospel greats as Mahalia Jackson and Sam Cooke.

At the age of 14 she gave birth to her first son, Clarence (some media reports say she was just 12 at the time). Edward was born two years later. Franklin eventually had two more sons, Ted White, Jr. and Kecalf Cunningham.

She traveled to New York in 1960 to pursue a secular music career, signing with Columbia Records and releasing her first, self-titled album “Aretha” in 1961. She enjoyed moderate success but in 1966 decided to sign on to Atlantic Records.

Her 1967 album, “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)”, included a cover of the Otis Redding song "Respect". Franklin’s version reached the No. 1 spot on both the R&B and the pop charts and earned Franklin her first two Grammy Awards. The song eventually became one of her most recognisable and iconic hits.

Her subsequent songs “Baby, I Love You”, “Chain of Fools”, “I Say a Little Prayer”, "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman", “Think” and "(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You've Been Gone” also hit the Top 10.

She soon earned the title “Queen of Soul” and became a symbol of empowerment for the Civil Rights Movement. In 1968 Franklin performed "Precious Lord" at the funeral of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Later that year, she sang the national anthem to kick off the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

Franklin’s first husband Ted White also served as her manager until they divorced in 1969, when Franklin’s brother Cecil took up managing her career. Cecil continued in this role until his death in 1989.

Accolades

As her star continued to rise, Franklin won eight consecutive Grammy Awards for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, the last one for "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing" in 1974.

As disco began its ascendancy in the mid-1970s, Franklin’s style of soul began losing ground to newer, fresher singers like Donna Summer and Chaka Khan, according to Biography.com.

A cameo in the 1980 film “The Blues Brothers” helped revitalise her career and introduced her to a new generation of would-be fans. She soon signed to Arista Records and her 1982 album “Jump To It” was a hit on the R&B charts, earning her another Grammy nomination.

In 1987, Aretha Franklin became the first woman to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

She has won 18 Grammy Awards – the first in 1967 – as well as a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award and a Grammy Living Legend award. Most recently she won Best Gospel Performance for “Never Gonna Break My Faith” with Mary J. Blige in 2007.

Franklin was the recipient of the highest US civilian honour, the Presidential Medal Of Freedom, in 2005 and also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

She sang at the inauguration of US president Jimmy Carter in 1977, of Bill Clinton in 1993 and at Obama’s first inauguration in January 2009.

Franklin famously brought Obama to tears with her performance of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” at the 38th annual Kennedy Center Honors in December 2015.

Over her nearly six-decade career, her distinctive fusion of gospel, soul and R&B style has influenced countless singers across generations.

In February of 2017, Franklin said she planned to "retire" from performing after the release of her new album.

"This will be my last year," she told Local 4 Detroit. "I will be recording, but this will be my last year in concert. This is it."

In November 2017 she released her last album, "A Brand New Me", which included many of her classic titles, including “Son of a Preacher Man” and “Respect” with backing from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Franklin cancelled planned performances earlier this year on doctor’s orders, the AP reported. She was originally scheduled to perform in Newark on her 76th birthday in March and at the famed New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in April.

She performed on August 26, 2017, at Philadelphia’s Mann Center and a couple of weeks later at a concert outside of Chicago. Those were her last major public performances.

Franklin has supported many charities and causes over her lifetime, including the NAACP, the Special Olympics, the Rainforest Foundation and the Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes. Her final performance was at a private gala for the Elton John AIDS Foundation last November (main photo above).

Recording Academy Grammy Awards website

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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