Legendary soul singer Aretha Franklin has passed away after a lengthy battle with advanced pancreatic cancer. She was 76 years old.
Among countless other accolades, Franklin was an 18-time Grammy winner, the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the number one entry on Rolling Stone's list of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. Dubbed "The Queen of Soul," Franklin was known for her unparalleled voice that spanned generations and influenced everyone from The Beatles to Beyoncé.
Franklin was much more than successful singer. By the late '60s, she was one of the most famous international stars in the world. Many fans and critics saw her as a symbol of black America itself. She was a personification of African-American pride and a symbol of confidence and determination during the Civil Rights movement. Aretha's legacy as an artist speaks for itself, but her impact on American life and culture cannot be quantified.
Born in Memphis in 1942, but raised primarily in Detroit, Franklin learned to play the piano by ear as a young girl, and grew up singing in the New Bethel Baptist Church, where her father was a famed preacher. Franklin's talent for gospel eventually led to stardom after she signed with Atlantic Records at age 25. Her legendary hits "Respect," "Think," and "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" arrived soon after. She would go on to sell over 75 million records worldwide, including 112 charted singles.
Aretha was a musical force throughout her career, garnering acclaim from everyone in the industry. Her storied run in the late '60s included hits "Respect," "I Never Loved a Man," "Chain of Fools," "Baby I Love You," "I Say a Little Prayer," "Think," and "The House That Jack Built." She was "Lady Soul," the heart of rhythm and blues and arguably the greatest artist Atlantic Records ever recorded.
After a storied career that saw her become one the best-selling artists of all time, Franklin officially retired from performing in February 2017. Though she rarely addressed her health issues in public, the Billboard legend underwent surgery for pancreatic cancer in 2010 and has "frequently been ill" since, according to Variety.
Earlier this week, People magazine quoted a longtime friend as saying, "She has been ill for a long time. She did not want people to know and she didn’t make it public."
Detroit news anchor Evrod Cassimy also wrote this week, "I am so saddened to report that the Queen of Soul and my good friend, Aretha Franklin is gravely ill. I spoke with her family members this evening. She is asking for your prayers at this time."
Franklin is survived by four sons.