UPDATE with full family statement: Aretha Franklin, known worldwide as the Queen of Soul and universally ranked among the greatest, most influential singers of the 20th century, died this morning at her home in Detroit. The music, cultural and social icon was 76.
Her death at 9:50 AM ET from pancreatic cancer was confirmed by her publicist to the Associated Press. A family statement said Franklin’s “official cause of death was due to advance pancreatic cancer of the neuroendocrine type, which was confirmed by Franklin’s oncologist, Dr. Philip Phillips of Karmanos Cancer Institute” in Detroit.
“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,” the family statement reads. “We have lost the matriarch and rock of our family.”
Read the full statement below.
News of Franklin’s most recent decline in health surfaced over the weekend, and social media and news outlets have been flooded with a mix of well wishes and remembrances all week, an unusual kind of national pre-tribute. Meanwhile, her family and friends had been flocking to her Detroit home to pay their respects.
Franklin, whose seminal blending of gospel, pop, standards, R&B and blues all but defined what would become known as soul, was the daughter of Detroit minister C.L. Franklin, and she never let go of her church stylings even after beginning what would become an unparalleled secular career at 18 in 1960. By the end of the decade her roster of hits included such unforgettable recordings as “Think,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”, “Spanish Harlem” and the era-defining “Respect”, the latter featuring a vocal performance so commanding that even composer Otis Redding conceded Franklin had claimed “Respect” as her own.
Franklin’s other hits — more than 100 of her songs made the Billboard charts — included “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)”, “Chain of Fools”, “(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone”, “Don’t Play That Song (You Lied)”, “Day Dreaming”, “Rock Steady”, “Until You Come Back to Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do)”, “Jump to It” and “Freeway of Love”. Much of her finest work was produced by Atlantic Records’ Jerry Wexler, whose skill in the studio unlocked the singer’s authentic talent, particularly when recorded with her own piano accompaniment.
Franklin won 18 Grammy Awards and was the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
Although Franklin’s film and TV appearances consisted mostly of documentaries and musical performances, her movie-stealing performance of “Think” in 1980’s The Blues Brothers was a highlight of the John Belushi-Dan Aykroyd comedy and reignited her career for the MTV generation. By the middle of that decade, she had a new roster of hits to add to her repertoire, including “Freeway of Love”, “Who’s Zoomin’ Who”, — both of which hit the pop top 10 — a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, “Jimmy Lee” and her chart-topping duet with George Michael “I Knew You Were Waiting for Me.”
In January, during Clive Davis’ pre-Grammy party, it was announced that Franklin hand-picked Academy Award-winning actress Jennifer Hudson to play her in an upcoming biopic about her life as the Queen of Soul. Davis and Franklin had a long professional relationship during the musician’s six-decade career with her most recent release, A Brand New Me: Aretha Franklin with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
As popular as her later-career songs and achievements were, though, nothing she — nor any of her peers or acolytes — produced then would ever equal the revelatory work of the streak that began in the late ’60s, when her new label, Atlantic Records, abandoned the middle-of-the-road path foisted on Franklin by her earlier producers at Columbia Records. In 1967, Franklin began recording at Alabama’s FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals with producer Wexler, and the unbridled genius of “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)” and “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” pointed a new way for Franklin and the legions of singers who’d follow.
Later that year, her version of Redding’s “Respect” — with background vocals by Franklin’s sisters Erma and Carolyn, a newly added “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” chorus and an impassioned interjection that put “TCB” into the national lexicon — blazed across radio waves and became a Civil Rights and feminist anthem. When Redding sang “Respect” at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967, a month or so before most of the crowd had heard Franklin’s take, he predicted the future of the song, noting, “a friend of mine, this girl, she just took this song.”
Throughout her career, the Queen of Soul had many memorable moments that left a mark on popular culture. On November, 17, 1980, she performed for another queen: Queen Elizabeth at Royal Albert Hall in London. She also delivered memorable performances at presidential inaugurations. On January 17, 1993, Franklin took the stage with fellow legends Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Diana Ross at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. for the inauguration of President Bill Clinton. Sixteen years later she performed a stirring rendition of “America (My Country, ‘Tis of Thee)” in a memorable hat at the inauguration of Barack Obama. As one of the original music divas, Franklin headlined VH1’s first Divas Live special in 1998, where she performed alongside Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Gloria Estefan, Carole King, and Shania Twain at the Beacon Theatre in New York City.
Franklin received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1979 and is one of the most honored artists in Grammy Award history. She received the Grammy Legend Award in 1991 and then was awarded with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994, the same year that she was a Kennedy Center Honoree. In addition to the endless list of accolades, she is in the NAACP Hall of Fame, the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and in 2005 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Here is the full statement released by her publicist:
It is with deep and profound sadness that we announce the passing of Aretha Louise Franklin, the Queen of Soul, in a statement issued by Franklin’s family through her longtime publicist, Gwendolyn Quinn.
Franklin, 76 years old, passed away on Thursday morning, August 16 at 9:50 a.m. at her home in Detroit, MI, surrounded by family and loved ones. Franklin’s official cause of death was due to advance pancreatic cancer of the neuroendocrine type, which was confirmed by Franklin’s Oncologist, Dr. Philip Phillips of Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit, MI.
“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.”
“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.”
Funeral arrangements will be announced in the coming days.