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.
Franklin, who won 18 Grammys and had some 25 gold records, died at her home in Detroit, according to one of her publicists. She had been battling advanced pancreatic cancer, and her family had asked for prayers.
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said few people in the city’s history had been as universally loved or had left as indelible a mark as Franklin, describing her as a “performer without peers.”
“Throughout her extraordinary life and career, she earned the love – and yes, the respect – of millions of people, not just for herself and for women everywhere, but for the city she loved so dearly and called home,” Duggan said in a statement.
Franklin’s father was a Baptist preacher in Detroit, and the gospel singing she heard in his church was her musical foundation. She created a 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, as well as 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.
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.
But when she switched to Atlantic Records in the mid-1960s, producer Jerry Wexler knew just what to do with Franklin, putting 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 “Arethaized” the music.
STRING OF HITS
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 would fade but she had a revival 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.”
Along the way 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.