Aretha Franklin, Queen of Soul Who Spelled ‘Respect,’ Dies at 76
(Bloomberg) -- Aretha Franklin, the former gospel singer who went on to reign over the music industry as the Queen of Soul with hit songs such as “Respect,” “Chain of Fools” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” has died. She was 76.
Franklin died Thursday of pancreatic cancer at her home in Detroit, according to the Associated Press. In March, Franklin canceled a scheduled tour for medical reasons. Her last known performance was in November at Elton John’s annual AIDS Foundation gala.
In Detroit on Aug. 13, Beyonce dedicated her performance with her husband, Jay Z, to the ailing soul singer, thanking Franklin for her “beautiful music.”
The daughter of a Baptist minister, Franklin incorporated black church music, blues and jazz to forge “a contemporary synthesis that spoke to the younger generation in the new language of soul,” according to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, which in 1987 made her the first female inductee.
Through four decades, Franklin was a regular on Billboard magazine’s hit lists. She had 17 top 10 songs and 22 top 40 albums. Twenty songs and 10 albums reached No. 1 on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop lists.
She won 18 Grammy Awards, plus two honorary ones for her lifetime of work. In 2008, Rolling Stone named her the greatest singer of all time based on a survey of 179 producers, musicians and others. Time magazine in 2010 named her one of the 25 most powerful women of the past century.
“Aretha is a gift from God,” Mary J. Blige wrote for Rolling Stone. “When it comes to expressing yourself through song, there is no one who can touch her. She is the reason why women want to sing.”
Her signature song, “Respect,” spent two weeks as the No. 1 song in the U.S. in 1967 and became an anthem for women’s rights -- “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me” --even though it was written and originally sung by a man, Otis Redding. She reached No. 1 two decades later, with “I Knew You Were Waiting,” a duet with George Michael in 1987.
“If a song’s about something I’ve experienced or that could’ve happened to me, it’s good,” she told Time for a 1968 cover story. “But if it’s alien to me, I couldn’t lend anything to it. Because that’s what soul is about -- just living and having to get along.”
In 1968, Franklin sang “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” at the funeral of Martin Luther King Jr. In 2009, she endured the chill of Washington in January to sing “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” at the inauguration of Barack Obama, the first black U.S. president.
“I was delighted and thrilled to be there,” she told then-CNN interviewer Larry King. “That was the most important thing, not so much the performance, but just to be there and to see this great man go into office -- the promise of tomorrow coming to pass.”
The hat she wore at the inauguration, gray wool with a giant bow and Swarovski crystals, became the day’s fashion statement, producing a flood of orders for the Detroit designer who made it for her.
Aretha Louise Franklin was born on March 25, 1942, in Memphis, Tennessee, and grew up in Detroit, where her father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin, served as minister at the New Bethel Baptist Church. Her mother, Barbara, was also a musician. She and her two sisters sang in the church’s gospel choir.
At 14, Franklin recorded her first album, “The Gospel Sound of Aretha Franklin.” By 16 she was the single mother of two boys. Bypassing her hometown label, Motown, she moved to New York City to pursue her music career, leaving her two boys in the care of her grandmother.
She signed with Columbia Records, a partnership that produced 10 albums along with strains and disagreements.
“I was being classified as a jazz singer, and I never, ever felt I was a jazz singer,” Franklin said, according to Craig Verner’s “Higher Ground: Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Curtis Mayfield, and the Rise and Fall of American Soul.”
John Hammond, who signed her to the Columbia contract, later said: “I cherish the records we made together, but, finally, Columbia was a white company who misunderstood her genius.”
Jerry Wexler at Atlantic Records signed Franklin in 1966 when her Columbia contract expired. “Respect” was the first song on her first album for Atlantic, “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Loved You,” which also included “Do Right Woman -- Do Right Man” and “Dr. Feelgood.” It “may stand as the greatest single soul album of all time,” according to “The New Rolling Stone Album Guide.”
Her run of hits continued with the 1967 album “Aretha Arrives,” which included “Baby I Love You”; the 1968 album “Lady Soul,” which included “Chain of Fools” and her version of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”; and the 1968 album “Aretha Now,” which included “Think,” one of the hits she both wrote and sang.
She performed “Think” in the 1980 film “The Blues Brothers,” which also gave her the chance to demonstrate her acting skills. She played the proprietor of a soul-food restaurant unhappy to see her husband recruited back into the life of the traveling musician.
After 12 years and 19 albums with Atlantic, she signed with Clive Davis at Arista Records in 1980. The title track to the 1982 album “Jump to It” gave Franklin her first No. 1 R&B song in five years.
Davis paired Franklin with other artists including Luther Vandross, Annie Lennox, George Benson and James Brown. “I Knew You Were Waiting,” her 1987 hit duet with Michael, reached No. 1 in both the U.S. and U.K.
Her 1985 album, “Who’s Zoomin’ Who?” was her first million-seller, its hits including the title track as well as “Freeway of Love.”
After being managed early on by her first husband, Ted White, and then by her brother, Cecil, Franklin spent many years as her own manager and produced many of her recordings. She toured the U.S. by bus, having given up flying after a turbulent 1982 flight on a small plane from Atlanta to Detroit.
Her two marriages ended in divorce. She had four sons, including the two born when she was a teenager.
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