Aretha Franklin, the “queen of soul” known for hits like Respect and Think, died of pancreatic cancer on Thursday, her niece, Sabrina Owens confirmed.
She was 76.
Her voice was a pure, painful, and unforgettable expression of American history and American feeling, the collective experience of black Americans and her own life.
A well-stocked jury of experts at Rolling Stone called her the greatest popular singer, and who’s going to argue?
Aretha Franklin has been making records for sixty years. The fourth of five children,
Aretha Louise Franklin was born on March 25, 1942, in Memphis, Tennessee, to Baptist preacher Reverend Clarence La Vaughan “C. L.” Franklin and Barbara Siggers Franklin, a gospel singer.
She died at 9:50 a.m. ET surrounded by family at her home in Detroit.
A family statement released by her publicist Gwendolyn Quinn 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.
The family added: “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.”
Franklin was one of the transcendent cultural figures of the 20th Century.
Raised on an eclectic musical diet of gospel, R&B, classical and jazz, she blossomed out of her father’s Detroit church to become the most distinguished female black artist of all time, breaking boundaries while placing nearly 100 hits on Billboard’s R&B chart — 20 of them reaching No. 1.
The Queen of Soul, as she was coronated in the 1960s, leaves a sprawling legacy of classic songs that includes “Respect,”
“(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” “Chain of Fools,” “Baby I Love You,” “Angel,” “Think,” “Rock Steady,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Freeway of Love,” along with a bestselling gospel catalog.
Her death follows several years of painstakingly concealed medical issues, which led to regular show cancellations and extended absences from the public eye.
In March, Franklin cancelled two concerts scheduled in New Jersey.
According to a statement from her management team, she was following doctors’ orders to stay off the road and rest completely for two months, and that she was “extremely disappointed she cannot perform as she had expected and hoped to.”
Franklin’s most recent performance was on Nov. 2, 2017, for the Elton John AIDS Foundation in New York. The previous June, visibly feeble but still summoning magic from her voice, Franklin played her final hometown Detroit show, an emotion-packed concert for thousands at an outdoor festival downtown.
She ended the performance with a then-cryptic appeal to her the hometown crowd: “Please keep me in your prayers.”