Aretha Franklin, the American singer known to millions of fans around the world as the “Queen of Soul,” has died at the age of 76.
Franklin passed away Thursday in her hometown of Detroit, where she had been under hospice care after a long battle with cancer.
Born March 25, 1942, in Memphis, Tennessee, Franklin was raised in Detroit, where her father, C.L. Franklin, was a popular preacher. Her talent was recognized at a young age as she played piano and sang hymns at his church services.
Franklin moved into pop and jazz music at age 18 on the Columbia Records label. But her real breakthrough came in 1967 on Atlantic Records, which allowed her to sing with her natural gospel intensity for the first time.
She rocketed to national fame that year with a series of hit singles, including “Chain of Fools,” “A Natural Woman,” and her most famous song, “Respect,” her first No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100.
The song was written by singer-songwriter Otis Redding, who died the year it was released in 1967. But Franklin transformed the song into an anthem for blacks and women by rewriting some of the lyrics and adding lines that spelled out the title: “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me.”
She eventually racked up more than 110 entries in Billboard magazine’s charts, the most by any woman in the magazine’s history. In 1987, Franklin became the first woman to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
She also recorded popular and acclaimed albums such as “Amazing Grace” and “Young, Gifted and Black.”
After a downturn in the late 1970s, Franklin’s career rebounded with an appearance in the 1980 film “The Blues Brothers” and a new series of hits, including “Freeway of Love.”
Franklin struggled with weight and health problems, but even in her older years, her soaring voice remained a thing of wonder.
In 2009, she sang at President Barack Obama’s first inauguration, thrilling the crowd with a rendition of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”
She made headlines again in 2016 when she sang a four-and-a-half-minute rendition of the U.S. national anthem before a Detroit Lions football game.
Paul McCartney was among those paying tribute to Franklin on Thursday. “Let’s all take a moment to give thanks for the beautiful life of Aretha Franklin, the Queen of our souls, who inspired us all for many many years. She will be missed but the memory of her greatness as a musician and a fine human being will live with us forever,” he said on Twitter.
Elton John said “The loss of @ArethaFranklin is a blow for everybody who loves real music: Music from the heart, the soul and the Church. Her voice was unique, her piano playing underrated – she was one of my favourite pianists.”
President Donald Trump said “The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, is dead. She was a great woman, with a wonderful gift from God, her voice. She will be missed!”
Former President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle sent “prayers and warmest sympathies to her family and all those moved by her song.”
“Through her compositions and unmatched musicianship, 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,” the Obamas said in a statement. “Aretha may have passed on to a better place, but the gift of her music remains to inspire us all. May the Queen of Soul rest in eternal peace.”