Aretha Franklin dies at age 76

Aretha Franklin with then President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle Obama at the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington on Oct 16, 2011.
Aretha Franklin with then President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle Obama at the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington on Oct 16, 2011.PHOTO: NYTIMES

WASHINGTON • Raised on gospel, bathed in rhythm and blues and fluent in jazz and pop, Aretha Franklin came to be known as the Queen of Soul through seven decades of electrifying performances.

From her father's church to the hallowed grounds of the US Capitol, Franklin left her mark on music fans everywhere.

Franklin died yesterday of advanced pancreatic cancer, in Detroit where family and friends had gathered during her final days, her publicist told US media. She was 76.

Perhaps best known for her cover of Otis Redding's Respect, she was an inspiration for two generations of pop divas. Her bell-clear voice with its four octaves found its way into the styles of stars such as Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston.

Born in Memphis, Tennessee, on March 25, 1942, to preacher C. L. Franklin and Ms Barbara Siggers Franklin, Aretha Louise Franklin grew up singing gospel in her father's New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit.

Her first recording - Spirituals - came out on a local label in 1956, when she was just 14 years old. She signed with Columbia records in 1960, releasing her first album, The Great Aretha Franklin. But her career really took off after moving to Atlantic Records in 1966, and beginning a collaboration with legendary producer Jerry Wexler that would result in 14 albums together.

Respect soared to No. 1 in 1967, and was adopted as the anthem of the civil rights and women's equality movements. Winning her the accolade Queen of Soul, it brought her the first of 18 Grammy Awards. In rapid succession came hits like Chain of Fools and (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.

Her personal life was a struggle, however. As an unmarried teenager, Franklin gave birth to a son at 13 and another two years later, she had two more sons and was married and divorced twice. She had lifelong battles with her weight and with alcoholism.

But nothing dimmed her status as music royalty. In 1968, she sang at the funeral of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. She performed at the inaugurations of two US presidents, delivering a stirring rendition of My Country 'Tis of Thee at the January 2009 ceremony for Mr Barack Obama. In 1987, she became the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She was a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors in 1994, and in 2005, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest US civilian honour.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2018, with the headline 'Aretha Franklin dies at age 76'. Print Edition | Subscribe