Singer Aretha Franklin died in her Detroit, Michigan home on Thursday morning, her publicist Gwendolyn Quinn stated on behalf of the family. According to the statement, the official cause of death was pancreatic cancer.
Per the statement, Franklin died at about 9:50 am local time, “surrounded by family and loved ones. 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. The love she had for her children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and cousins knew no bounds.”
Aretha Louise Franklin was born in Memphis, Tennessee on March 25, 1942. After some time in Buffalo, New York, the family settled in Detroit around 1946. Her father was a preacher, and Aretha sang solos at his church when she was 10. Her mother died that year, having left the family four years earlier. Aretha had her first son before age 13, and recorded gospel music at 14. She contracted in 1956 to JVB Records, with her father’s help, then in 1960 to Columbia Records, and in 1966 to Atlantic Records. At Atlantic she focused on soul and rhythm and blues (R&B), and was highly successful. She acquired the nickname “the Queen of Soul” in 1967. Over the next seven years she was 33 times on the R&B Top Ten list. One of her signature songs, Respect, won her the Grammy Award for best R&B performance in 1968, and she won best R&B performance every year from then through 1975. In 1987 she became the first woman in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Franklin’s musical career resurged in the 1980s. Her last number-one hit was a 1987 duet with British singer George Michael, I Knew You Were Waiting (for Me). Her last public performance was in November of last year, at an Elton John AIDS Foundation event in New York City. As of June last year, according to Billboard, she was working on an album of collaborations with others, mentioning Stevie Wonder, Elton John, and Lionel Richie.
Franklin’s career was entwined with the civil rights movement. Her father’s politics brought her in contact with Martin Luther King Jr., with whom she toured in the late 1950s. Her father was involved in organizing the 1963 Detroit Walk to Freedom with King, and when King was assassinated in 1968, she sang at his funeral. Respect, and others of her songs, became anthems for the civil rights and feminism movements. She told Vogue magazine in 2015 she didn’t record Respect for a political movement; “Not just me or the civil rights movement or women — it’s important to people. And I was asked what recording of mine I’d put in a time capsule, and it was Respect. Because people want respect — even small children, even babies. As people, we deserve respect from one another.”
She sang at Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration as President of the United States. On her death, Barack Obama tweeted, “Aretha helped define the American experience. In her voice, we could feel our history, all of it and in every shade — our power and our pain, our darkness and our light, our quest for redemption and our hard-won respect. May the Queen of Soul rest in eternal peace.”
Aretha Franklin is survived by sons Clarence, Edward, Ted, and Kecalf.