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Aretha Franklin Dead at 76; Career Spanned Six Decades as ‘Queen of Soul’

Aretha Franklin Elle Magazine

Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, has died at 76. (Photo: Elle)

Aretha Franklin, who came up through the church in Detroit, rode the 1960s soul music explosion to fame and was proclaimed “Queen of Soul,” for her emotionally powerful songs, died today (Aug. 18) after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 76.

Franklin was a force in popular music for six decades. In all, she won 18 Grammys and scored 25 gold records. Her hits included such classics as “Respect,” “Chain of Fools” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” “Spanish Harlem” and “Think.”

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan called her a “performer without peers.”

“Throughout her extraordinary life and career, she earned the love – and yes, the respect – of millions of people, not just for herself and for women everywhere, but for the city she loved so dearly and called home.”

Aretha began her singing career in her father Rev. C.L. Franklin’s Detroit church. He was a Baptist minister and civil rights leader and advocate of “black pride.”

Aretha Franklin performs for President Obama during the 91st national Christmas tree lighting ceremony last December in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo-Pool/Getty Images)

She sang in the choir and artists such as Sam Cooke, Art Tatum, Dinah Washington Fats Domino and Bobby Bland were often guests in her home.

In 1960, at the age of 18, she began her professional career with modest success at first for Columbia Records. By then, she’d been married for a year and had two children.

She switched to Atlantic Records in 1967. By then the Soul music explosion was in full swing. Artists such as Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Wilson Pickett, Martha and the Vandellas and The Supremes were burning up the charts.

Producer Jerry Wexler is credited with helping her forge her unique sound, which combined elements of gospel, soul and rock, Franklin said herself in her autobiography, that she “Aretha-ized” the music.

Franklin rode the soul music wave into the 1879s. Her song, “Respect,” became a powerful anthem for the civil rights movement and the women’s movement. Her hit albums included albums I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You (1967), Lady Soul (1968), Young, Gifted and Black (1972) and Amazing Grace (1972).

Her early career was cut short after she had a falling out with her label and her father was shot.

But she roared back in the 1980s after signing with Arista Records. She recorded Jump to It (1982) and Who’s Zoomin’ Who? (1985), and landed a role the 1980 film “The Blues Brothers,” starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd.

In 1998, Franklin received international acclaim for singing the opera aria “Nessun dorma” at the Grammys, replacing Luciano Pavarotti. Later that year, she scored her final Top 40 song with “A Rose Is Still a Rose.”

Although her career waned, she remained an in-demand singer throughout her life. Franklin sang at the funeral of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr, and the presidential inaugurations of Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.

In 1987 she became the first woman voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,

Her feuds with other artists are almost as legendary as her music. She took her title as “Queen of Soul” seriously to the point that she was outraged when Beyonce announced Tina Turner as the “queen” at the 2008 Grammy Awards.

She became estranged from her father after his wife suddenly left him and their five children. After her mother died, she refused to talk about her parents.

Her first husband, Ted White, became her manager and publicly abused her. She divorced and married actor Glynn Turman in 1978. They divorced in 1984.

Franklin, who was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 by President George W. Bush, was the subject of a singing tribute at the February 2011 Grammy Awards ceremony and a Carnegie Hall tribute concert in early 2017. She did not attend either.

In her later years, she tour sporadically and released her last album last year. A Brand New Me featured her singing her biggest hits with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Her last live performance was Nov. 7, 2017, for the Elton John AIDS Foundation gala.

She died at her home in Detroit, her publicist said.

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