After a vibrant, history-making life, Aretha Franklin has died at age 76.
Reports that Franklin was "gravely ill" surfaced on August 13 after a source close to the family asked for prayers for the singer in the final days. Universally lauded as one of the all-time greatest singers and artists, Franklin is best remembered for her once-in-a-generation, technically flawless voice, which married gospel power with a singular grittiness and honesty. Songs like "Respect," "Think," and "You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman" are forever engrained in American pop culture for their reflection of the times the civil rights and feminist movements. In her autobiography, Franklin wrote of the 1967 classic "Respect," "It [reflected] the need of a nation, the need of the average man and woman in the street, the businessman, the mother, the fireman, the teacher — everyone wanted respect. It was also one of the battle cries of the civil rights movement. The song took on monumental significance." The track, originally recorded by Otis Redding but definitively performed by Franklin, was added to the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress in 2002.
She is the Queen of Soul, who entranced millions of souls with her boundless songs and stage presence — performing into her 70s, as chronicled by David Remnick in a 2014 New Yorker piece about her later career. Franklin got her start singing in the choir at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, where her father was a reverend. C.L. Franklin's nationally broadcast radio show meant that major Black singers like Sam Cooke visited her childhood home, and Martin Luther King, Jr. was a family friend. She recorded much of her best, and most socially impactful, music with Atlantic Records in the late '60s and '70s. Nearly every powerhouse female vocalist in pop, R&B and beyond – from late goddaughter Whitney Houston to Mariah Carey to Adele to Christina Aguilera to Mary J. Blige – have cited Franklin as an inspiration and idol.
Franklin saw a resurgence in her career in the '80s, thanks to hits like "Freeway of Love" and collaborations with younger artists like George Michael ("I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)"), Annie Lennox ("Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves," and Houston ("It Isn't, It Wasn't, It Ain't Never Gonna Be"), as well as a cameo in the Blues Brothers movie. In the '90s, Franklin surfaced on several blockbuster soundtracks, including Waiting to Exhale and Malcolm X, while her 1998 album A Rose Is Still a Rose went gold, becoming one of her best selling albums.
A winner of 18 Grammy awards, Franklin was the first woman inducted into the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame. She has been awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement and Legend awards, is in the Grammy Hall of Fame, was given the Kennedy Center Honors, numerous NAACP Awards, American Music Awards, BET Awards, and was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her humanitarian work. Barack Obama himself perfectly summed up the legacy and majesty of Franklin to Remnick, "You can hear Aretha’s influence across the landscape of American music, no matter the genre. What other artist had that kind of impact? Dylan. Maybe Stevie, Ray Charles. The Beatles and the Stones—but, of course, they’re imports. The jazz giants like Armstrong. But it’s a short list. And if I’m stranded on a desert island, and have ten records to take, I know she’s in the collection. For she’ll remind me of my humanity."