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Arts & Culture

Remembering Aretha Franklin: 1942-2018

Aretha Franklin
Facebook fan page of Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin, the undisputed "Queen of Soul" who sang with matchless style on such classics as "Think," ''I Say a Little Prayer" and her signature song, "Respect," and stood as a cultural icon around the globe, has died at age 76 from advanced pancreatic cancer.  Music fans around the world are mourning her passing. Although not born in Michigan, she helped put our state on the musical map.

Publicist Gwendolyn Quinn tells The Associated Press through a family statement that Franklin passed Thursday at 9:50 a.m. at her home in Detroit. The statement 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."

Born March 25, 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee, Aretha Louise Franklin was 5-years-old when her family moved to Detroit. At age 9, the shy daughter of preacher CL Franklin sang before her father’s church. She talked about that moment with NPR’s Juan Williams in 2004.

"We were at church and there was a little footstool there," said Franklin. "Someone found a footstool in the office and put it there on stage for me to stand on to sing because they didn't feel that I would be seen. I was so small."
Despite living in Detroit, she was not part of Motown records. Franklin recorded her first album at 12-years-old. When Franklin was 19, she signed with Columbia records. Then switched to Atlantic, where producer Jerry Wexler told Franklin to focus on her church-trained way of singing. In 1967, Franklin established herself as the Queen of Soul with the album "I Never Loved a Man the Way I Loved You." It contained a hit by the same name as well as "Respect", "Baby, Baby, Baby" and "Do Right Woman - Do Right Man."

Mark Anthony Neal, African-American studies professor at Duke University put Franklin’s breakthrough year in perspective for NPR in 2007.

"She released that album, I never loved a man and nothing was ever the same again," said Neal to Michel Martin. "By 1968, she was, like, the most popular black woman ever. So she could really go from one genre to another and really seamlessly and always maintaining this gospel sensibility about her.”

Franklin’s voice made anthems out of one-word song-titles such as "Think" and "Respect." In 2007, Franklin and NPR’s Juan Williams talked about why it was one of her most requested songs.

"It was a battle cry of a sort, but we've always had respect in certain ways," Franklin said. "We kind of demand respect."

Franklin rose back to the top of the charts in the 1980’s with her "Freeway of Love" album. Images in the video of a song with the same name proudly showed off of her hometown of Detroit.  She also appeared in numerous commercials, tv specials and movies. 

In 1998, Franklin was given rave reviews for filling in for Luciano Pavarotti at the Grammy Awards.. singing her version of Puccini’s aria “Nessun Dorma.”

Winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, nearly 20 Grammys and the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Franklin sung for Popes and Presidents.


In 2009, wearing a now famous gray hat with a big bow on top, Franklin performed at the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Franklin later said the cold air of that January day affected her voice, but told UPI she was delighted and thrilled to participate in the event for America's first black president.

In yet another NPR interview, Franklin said the reason why she kept performing nearly until the end.. was simple... "I love what I do and I like I’ve heard I said, you get paid for it too."

Aretha Franklin, the "Natural Woman", who didn’t just sing the words, she made us feel them.

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