Aretha Louise Franklin, the “Queen of Soul,” died in Detroit on Thursday surrounded by family and friends after a battle with pancreatic cancer, The Associated Press confirms. She was 76.
Franklin was born March 25, 1942, in Memphis, Tennessee, to singer Barbara Franklin and the Rev. Clarence LaVaughn Franklin, who moved his family to Detroit to become the minister at New Bethel Baptist Church, according to Detroit Historical Museum.
In 1954, Franklin began singing solos at her father’s church and doing gospel recordings when she was 14, singing backup with her sisters for her dad’s music when he was signed to Gotham Records.
Franklin performing “There’s a Fountain Filled with Blood” at New Bethel when she was 14.
In 1960, Franklin, with her four-octave vocal range, moved to New York and signed with Columbia Records to pursue a career in secular music, and she had the support of her father. The following year, she released her first album with the label titled, Aretha: With the Ray Bryant Combo.
Franklin left her deal with Columbia to join Atlantic Records in 1967, where she was able to write her own music, infuse gospel back into her tracks and work with her sisters
Her deal with Atlantic was considered a success and she went on to win her first two Grammy Awards for Best R&B Recording and Best R&B Solo Vocal Performance, Female for her iconic hit single “Respect,” which also earned the music legend her first No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1967.
“I felt a natural affinity with the Atlantic sound. To me, Atlantic meant soul,” she told JET magazine in 1999. “I wanted a hit, and I wanted to be with a company that understood the current market.”
In her autobiography, Aretha: From These Roots, Franklin writes about the importance of “Respect” and its impact in the Civil Rights Movement.
“It [reflected] the need of a nation, the need of the average man and woman in the street, the businessman, the mother, the fireman, the teacher—everyone wanted respect. It was also one of the battle cries of the civil rights movement. The song took on monumental significance.”
It would take another 20 years before Franklin scored another No. 1 hit—”I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me),” her duet with the late George Michael. She continued to churn out hit albums, including Who’s Zoomin’ Who? under Arista, which was certified platinum by the RIAA, led by the hit single “Freeway of Love,” which earned her a Grammy.
Franklin’s musical appeal spanned multiple artists from different genres of music. She teamed up with the Eurythmics for the female empowerment anthem “Sisters are doin’ it for Themselves.”
In one of her most iconic performances, she filled in at the last minute for famed opera singer Luciano Pavarotti at the 1998 Grammys performing “Nessun Dorma.”
She was no stranger to the charts in her storied career. She had 73 titles in the Billboard Hot 100, the most of any female artist until Nicki Minaj broke her 40-year record in 2017.
Franklin has gone on to win 18 Grammys and sold over 75 million records, making her one of the most successful selling artists of all time, and in 1987 became the first female performer to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
She went on to perform for presidents, singing at the inaugurations of Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
In 2005, Franklin was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush, which is given to “any person who has made an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, or world peace, or cultural or other significant public or private endeavors,” according to the National Archives.
Her journey to “Queen of Soul” was not immediate, she told JET. “I was not an overnight sensation by any means,” she said. “Things don’t happen overnight.”
Franklin also dabbled in acting, having appeared in the 1980 film The Blues Brothers, where she performed her 1968 hit “Think.”
Rumors have surrounded Franklin’s health for years. It was revealed in 2010 that she had a tumor removed, but she denied reports that she was battling pancreatic cancer.
Franklin’s last performance was at Elton John’s AIDS Foundation gala in November.
She is survived by four sons.
Some of Aretha Franklin’s most memorable moments
Watch her rendition of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” at President Obama’s first inauguration in 2009.
When she brought former President Barack Obama to tears at 2015’s Kennedy Center Honors where she sang “Natural Woman” to a surprised Carole King.