'Queen of soul' Aretha Franklin dead at 76

Aretha Franklin, the undisputed Queen of Soul, has died at the age of 76.

She had been battling various undisclosed illnesses for years, and, in recent weeks, was receiving hospice care.

As news of her declining health spread over the past few days, visitors including Stevie Wonder and the Rev. Jesse Jackson reportedly paid their respects at her bedside.

Beyoncé and Jay-Z dedicated their Monday concert in the Motor City to Franklin, declaring the iconic singer. “We love you,” Beyoncé said, adding a word of thanks for “the beautiful music.”

Over the course of her nearly seven-decade career, Franklin established herself as one of the most important artists in music history, winning 18 Grammy Awards, selling more than 75 million records worldwide, and becoming the first female performer to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

She recorded 112 charted singles on Billboard, thus setting the record for the most charted female artist in the trade magazine’s history.

Franklin’s other accolades during her lifetime included three American Music Awards, two MTV Video Music Awards, one Golden Globe, a Presidential Medal of Freedom, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a Grammy Legend Award and Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

She performed at Martin Luther King’s memorial service and at the inaugurations of three presidents: Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama.

In 2010, Franklin’s commanding mezzo-soprano voice earned her the No. 1 spot on Rolling Stone’s list of the “100 Greatest Singers of All Time.” 

Contributing to that issue, admirer Mary J. Blige wrote, “You know a force from heaven. You know something that God made. And Aretha is a gift from God.”

Preacher’s daughter

Franklin was born in Memphis on March 25, 1942.  Her family moved to Detroit when she was 5 years old, and her mother, Barbara, died shortly before Franklin’s 10th birthday.

Her father, Clarence LaVaughn “C. L.” Franklin, was a famous preacher at Detroit’s New Bethel Baptist Church, and his home was subsequently frequented by celebrity guests like Martin Luther King Jr., Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke, and Mahalia Jackson.

It was around that time that a young Franklin began singing solos at New Bethel.

Managed by her father and signed to J.V.B. Records, she released her first album, Songs of Faith, in 1956.

When she turned 18, she shifted to secular music, recording for Columbia Records and charting a few singles on the R&B and pop charts, but major mainstream success mostly eluded her.

Aretha Franklin with ‘A Rose Is Still a Rose’ producer Lauryn Hill in 1998.

Breakthrough success

It was only after Franklin signed to Atlantic Records in 1967 that she had her big breakthrough.

In February of that year, Atlantic released “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” recorded at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals.

The song became her first top 10 Billboard hit; two months later, she followed up with her famous cover of Otis Redding’s “Respect,” which went to No. 1 on both the R&B and pop charts.

Her first album for Atlantic, I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, soon went gold.

She capped her amazing 1967 run with the September release of another signature song, her cover of Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” which became another Top 10 hit.

By the following year, Franklin had won her first two Grammys and graced the cover of Time magazine.