Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin Dies at 76
Aretha Franklin — the first woman to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and known as the "Queen of Soul" for powerful anthems like "Respect" and "Chain of Fools" — died Thursday morning at her home in Detroit. She was 76.
Franklin died of pancreatic cancer, the singer's publicist said in a statement issued by the family.
"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," the family said. "We have lost the matriarch and rock of our family."
She was mourned by music luminaries as one of the all-time great talents of American popular music. "What a life. What a legacy! So much love, respect and gratitude," singer-songwriter Carole King tweeted. Elton John echoed that praise, tweeting: "The whole world will miss her but will always rejoice in her remarkable legacy."
Earlier this week, members of her family had told NBC affiliate WDIV-TV in Detroit that she was "gravely ill." The station reported that Franklin had asked for prayers.
The song became a soundtrack for both the civil rights and female-empowerment movements, and no one was more surprised by its success than Franklin.
"I was stunned when it went to No. 1," she told Elle magazine in April 2016. "And it stayed No. 1 for a couple weeks. It was the right song at the right time."
"Respect" earned Franklin the first two of her 18 Grammy Awards, culminating in a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement in 1994. But the song was only the beginning of her success.
The following year, Franklin came out with two towering albums, "Lady Soul" and "Aretha Now," introducing the timeless hits "Chain of Fools" and "I Say a Little Prayer."
More popular — and culturally significant — albums followed through the 1970s, highlighted by "Young, Gifted & Black," winner of the 1972 Grammy for female R&B performance, and a return to her gospel roots, the double-platinum "Amazing Grace."
Other Top 10 singles included "Spanish Harlem," "Think" and "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman," written by Carole King. Franklin performed it at the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors in Washington before an audience that included King, President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama — drawing a tear from the president and sheer elation from King.
"One of the three or four greatest nights of my life," Franklin told The New Yorker of that performance, which went viral on YouTube.
Franklin's live performances often had that effect. She was a supremely talented technical musician — a child prodigy on the piano, able to shift seamlessly from thunderous gospel chord progressions to propulsive R&B beats to bouncy jazz riffs.