Aretha Franklin, the preacher’s daughter whose powerful voice made her the long-reigning “Queen of Soul” with such hit songs as “Respect” and “Chain of Fools,” died on Thursday at the age of 76, officials said.

FILE PHOTO – Singer Aretha Franklin performs at Radio City Music Hall in New York in this February 17, 2012. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/File Photo

Franklin, who won 18 Grammys and had some 25 gold records, died at her home in Detroit surrounded by family and loved ones, her publicist said. She had been battling advanced pancreatic cancer.

Calling it one of the darkest moments of their lives, Franklin’s family said they were unable to find the appropriate words to express the pain in their hearts.

“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,” her family said in a statement.

FILE PHOTO – Singer Aretha Franklin (L) sits courtside with Reverend Jesse Jackson during the NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and Miami Heat in Auburn Hills, Michigan in this February 11, 2011. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook/File Photo
FILE PHOTO – U.S. President Barack Obama watches as first lady Michelle Obama (L) thanks singer Aretha Franklin at the dedication ceremony of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in West Potomac Park in Washington, October 16, 2011. REUTERS/Larry Downing/File Photo
FILE PHOTO – Previous Kennedy Center Honoree and Motown singer Aretha Franklin waves as she is joined by her escort Richard Gibbs as they pose for photographers on the red carpet as they arrive for the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors gala dinner at the U.S. State Department, in Washington DC, December 1, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Theiler/File Photo

Franklin’s father was a Baptist preacher in Detroit, and the gospel singing she heard in his church was her musical foundation. Her uniquely emotional and powerful voice that put her at the forefront of 1960s soul music along with Otis Redding, Sam Cooke and Wilson Pickett.

Franklin sang at the funeral of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and at the presidential inaugurations of Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. In 1987 she became the first woman voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in 2010 Rolling Stone magazine named her the No. 1 singer of the rock era.

Aretha Franklin performs with the Backstreet Boys at “The One and Only Aretha Franklin” a live televised concert at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, April 10, 2001. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Singer Aretha Franklin sings at musician Luther Vandross’ funeral service in New York’s Riverside Church July 8, 2005. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine RFS/YH
Singer Aretha Franklin and Australian actor Hugh Jackman sing “Somewhere” from the classic musical “West Side Story” during the American Theatre Wing’s 59th Annual Tony Awards show at Radio City Music Hall in New York, June 5, 2005. REUTERS/Jeff Christensen
Rock star Rod Stewart and actor Dustin Hoffman join music legend Aretha Franklin on stage for a song during a show being taped in New York April 27, 1993. REUTERS/
Jeff Christensen
Singer Aretha Franklin and actor Kirk Douglas (C) listen to composer Morton Gould, after they received the 17th annual Kennedy Center Honor December 4. The honorees received the award for their contribution to the American arts
Singer Luciano Pavarotti gestures towards singer Aretha Franklin during a photo opportunity at the 1998 MusiCares benefit dinner in New York February 23, 1998. REUTERS/Fred Prouser
President Bill Clinton awards singer Aretha Franklin with a 1999 National Medal of the Arts as first lady Hillary Clinton looks on September 29, 1999. REUTERS/Win McNamee
Singer Aretha Franklin poses with Blues Brothers John Goodman J. Evan Bonifant, Joe Morton and Dan Ackroyd after performing her song, Respect at the Grammy Awards in New York City, February 25, 1998. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn
Singers Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder perform together during the finale of VH1’s “Divas Live: The One and Only Aretha Franklin” a live televised concert at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, April 10, 2001. REUTERS/Mike Segar

After recording and touring as a young gospel singer, Franklin’s career took a secular turn in 1961 when she signed with Columbia Records. She had only modest success with Columbia, which had trouble classifying her style and tried to steer her toward pop.

She switched to Atlantic Records in the mid-1960s, where producer Jerry Wexler put her powerful voice in a setting that combined gospel, soul and rock, and made her a superstar by letting “the lady wail.” As Franklin put it in her autobiography, she “Aretha-ized” the music.

South Africa’s Prof Thuli Madonsela tweeted: “Thank you for the music Aretha Franklin. It inspired and gave confidence to many, particularly women. Heartfelt condolences to the family, friends and colleagues. #RipArethaFranklin”

Singer John Legend called her the greatest vocalist he had ever known. “Salute to the Queen,” he wrote on Twitter.

Fellow singer Diana Ross tweeted: “I’m sitting in prayer for the wonderful golden spirit Aretha Franklin.”

Former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described Franklin as one of America’s greatest national treasures.

“She was elegant, graceful, and utterly uncompromising in her artistry,” they said in a statement.

FILE PHOTO – Actor Tyler Perry presents Aretha Franklin with the Vanguard Award at the 39th Annual NAACP Image Awards at the Shrine auditorium in Los Angeles February 14, 2008. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/File Photo
Aretha Franklin opens at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., June 13, 1969. Las Vegas News Bureau/Handout via REUTERS
Aretha Franklin opens at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., June 13, 1969. Las Vegas News Bureau/Handout via REUTERS


Franklin’s heyday extended into the early 1970s as she dominated the music charts with “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” “Baby, I Love You,” “Chain of Fools,” “Think,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” “Do-Right Woman” and “Respect,” a cover of a Redding tune that became a song of empowerment during the civil rights era.

Franklin’s popularity faded, then revived in the mid-1980s with songs such as “Freeway of Love,” a duet with George Michael named “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me),” “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves,” “Who’s Zoomin’ Who?” and a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”

Franklin inspired a generation of singers.

“Pop music today is rich with glorious gospel voices and women singers in the mold cast by Aretha,” the late Wexler said in his autobiography. “… Aretha became a model for people like Chaka Khan, Natalie Cole, Donna Summer, Whitney Houston… The list of her disciples is long.”

Franklin was known to be shy, moody, imperious and difficult. She often did not get along with other women singers, including her sisters, could be quick to fire underlings and was erratic when it came to showing up for concerts and appointments.

Franklin often demanded she be paid in cash before performing and took her status as musical royalty seriously. In 2008 Beyonce introduced Tina Turner as “the queen” at the Grammy Awards ceremony, which Franklin decried as “a cheap shot” at her.


Franklin was born March 25, 1942, in Memphis, Tennessee, and raised in Detroit. Her father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin, was respected as a civil rights leader, an early advocate of “black pride” and a friend of King.

But the Reverend Franklin had also been arrested for drug possession and, under unexplained circumstances, his wife left him and their five children when Aretha was six. Four years later, Franklin’s mother died and Aretha avoided discussing her parents publicly.

FILE PHOTO – Aretha Franklin sings during the inauguration ceremony for President-elect Barack Obama in Washington, January 20, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Reed/File Photo
FILE PHOTO – Singer Aretha Franklin performs at the Candie’s Foundation 10th anniversary Event to Prevent benefit New York May 3, 2011. REUTERS/Eric Thayer/File Photo

Franklin started touring as a teenager in her father’s gospel show. She got a musical education from gospel greats: the Staple Singers, the Soul Stirrers, James Cleveland and The Mighty Clouds of Joy.

She also came to know jazz and R&B greats invited to the family home – Cooke, Art Tatum, Dinah Washington, Fats Domino and Bobby Bland.

By 17, she had given birth to two children and later had two other sons. First married to Ted White, who became her manager and publicly abused her, Franklin later married actor Glynn Turman in 1978 but they divorced in 1984.

Franklin, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005, was the subject of a singing tribute at the February 2011 Grammy Awards ceremony and a Carnegie Hall tribute concert in early 2017. She did not attend either.

Franklin did not perform regularly for many years, partly because of an aversion to flying after a rough trip in 1982. Instead, she traveled in a customized bus. She often had to cancel shows for health reasons.

In February 2017, she said she would keep recording but retire from touring after a limited run of concerts marking a new album that year, “A Brand New Me,” which featured her doing some of her biggest hits with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

She performed “Natural Woman” at the Kennedy Center Honors in December 2015 in a tribute to songwriter Carole King. Her last live performance was Nov. 7, 2017, for the Elton John AIDS Foundation gala.

“I feel very, very enriched and satisfied with respect to where my career came from and where it is now,” Franklin told a Detroit television interviewer in 2017. “I’ll be pretty much satisfied, but I’m not going to go anywhere and just sit down and do nothing. That wouldn’t be good either.”

President George W. Bush presented Franklin the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005.

FILE PHOTO – U.S. President George W. Bush (R) presents his Presidential Medal of Freedom to soul legend Aretha Franklin at a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington in this November 9, 2005. REUTERS/Jason Reed/File Photo

(Editing by Daniel Wallis and David Gregorio)