Aretha Franklin Dead at 76

Portrait of American soul singer Aretha Franklin as she wears a strapless dress and pearl necklace and has her hair in a bun, 1977. (Photo bhy Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, passed away on Thursday at the age of 76 years old at her Detroit home, according to her publicist.

Franklin, who was under hospice care when she passed away, dropped down to 86 pounds. The singer’s family said in a statement: “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.

“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.”

Franklin, who had battled undisclosed health issues in recent years, announced her retirement from touring in 2017.

Aretha Louise Franklin was born March 25, 1942, in Memphis, Tennessee. The Rev. C.L. Franklin soon moved his family to Buffalo, New York, then to Detroit, where the Franklins settled after the marriage of Aretha’s parents collapsed and her mother (and reputed sound-alike) Barbara returned to Buffalo.

A professional singer and accomplished pianist by her late teens, a superstar by her mid-20s, Franklin had long ago settled any arguments over who was the greatest popular vocalist of her time. Her gifts, natural and acquired, were a multi-octave mezzo-soprano, gospel passion and training worthy of a preacher’s daughter, taste sophisticated and eccentric, and the courage to channel private pain into liberating song.

She recorded hundreds of tracks and had dozens of hits over the span of a half century, including 20 that reached No. 1 on the R&B charts. But her reputation was defined by an extraordinary run of top 10 smashes in the late 1960s, from the morning-after bliss of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” to the wised-up “Chain of Fools” to her unstoppable call for “Respect.”

Her records sold millions of copies and the music industry couldn’t honor her enough. Franklin won 18 Grammy awards. In 1987, she became the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. President George W. Bush awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in 2005.

She only released a few albums over the past two decades, including “A Rose is Still a Rose,” which featured songs by Sean “Diddy” Combs, Lauryn Hill and other contemporary artists, and “So Damn Happy,” for which Franklin wrote the gratified title ballad. Franklin’s autobiography, “Aretha: From These Roots,” came out in 1999, when she was in her 50s. But she always made it clear that her story would continue.

“Music is my thing, it’s who I am. I’m in it for the long run,” she told reporters in 2008. “I’ll be around, singing, ‘What you want, baby I got it.’ Having fun all the way.”

Rock icon and ex-Beatle Paul McCartney issued a statement shortly after Franklin’s death: “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.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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