Paying final R.E.S.P.E.C.T.s to the ‘Queen of Soul’

August 23, 2018

Aretha Franklin, the self-taught piano prodigy, vocalist and songwriter who first conquered the charts in the late ’60s and never relinquished her throne, died Thursday, August 16, 2018 of advance pancreatic cancer of the neuroendocrine type, her publicist confirmed to PEOPLE Magazine. She was 76.

“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. We have lost the matriarch and rock of our family. The love she had for her children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and cousins knew no bounds,” the family said in a statement.

“We have been deeply touched by the incredible outpouring of love and support we have received from close friends, supporters and fans all around the world. Thank you for your compassion and prayers. We have felt your love for Aretha and it brings us comfort to know that her legacy will live on. As we grieve, we ask that you respect our privacy during this difficult time.”

The Queen of Soul had struggled with her health for years. A source told PEOPLE Monday that Franklin had taken a turn for the worse and that her death was “imminent.”

A musical phenomenon who crossed musical, racial and gender barriers, Franklin began her vocal career as a teenager, singing gospel hymns in her father’s Detroit church. From these humble beginnings she scaled to the very heights of stardom, scoring her first national chart-topper in 1967 with a searing version of Respect.

Since then, the artist has notched 77 Hot 100 chart entries, and earned an astounding 18 Grammys out of 44 nominations. In 1987, two decades after her first No. 1, Franklin became the first woman to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and was later named the Greatest Singer of All Time by Rolling Stone.

A source close to the singer spoke to the Associated Press on Monday to confirm that Franklin was “seriously ill,” although they did not provide any additional details as to the severity or the cause of the singer’s illness.

Showbiz 411 reporter Roger Friedman was first to report the singer was “gravely ill,” sharing that Franklin’s family were “asking for prayers and privacy.”

In February of 2017, the Queen of Soul told a Detroit TV station that she was retiring from music that year.

Despite her failing health in recent years, Franklin returned to the stage in August for what would be her final public performance at the Mann Center in Philadelphia, despite noticeable changes in her appearance that caused concern about her well-being.

She also sang at the Elton John AIDS Foundation’s Enduring Vision benefit gala in November of last year. Despite two concerts scheduled for March and April of this year, the singer was forced to cancel the shows. She was expected to release her next album, entitled A Brand New Me, in November.

In summer of 2011, Franklin performed live at several concerts and talk shows to promote her album, Aretha: A Woman Falling Out of Love, looking svelte and healthy.

On Dec. 1, 2010, a vigil was held in Franklin’s hometown of Detroit after it had been announced she was headed to the hospital for unspecified surgery. Only the night before, Franklin was nominated for another Grammy, this time for her duet with Ron Isley, You’ve Got a Friend.

By the middle of that month, as news spread from family members that she was suffering from pancreatic cancer, Franklin was recovering at home, and saying she was up and about — and feeling better, too. In January 2011, the Queen went so far as to pronounce the matter resolved.

An electrifying stage presence who was also frightfully shy offstage, Franklin, under doctors’ orders, in November 2010 canceled all tour dates and personal appearances for the next six months — a sudden announcement that both disappointed and worried her fans, who could well see for the past few years she was not in the best of health.

Web Photo

Awards and R-E-S-P-E-C-T

While her four-octave range, phrasing and breath control have elicited critical raves for decades, Franklin’s records — Respect, Chain of Fools, (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Loved You), among the hundreds of others — and her record of accomplishments speak for themselves: the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in 1987; the holder of the record for most Grammys for best female R&B vocal performance (11); the most million-selling singles of any female artist (14); 18 competitive Grammy victories; two honorary Grammys; the sole (let alone soul) singer at Barack Obama’s 2009 Presidential inauguration — the accolades, including a 2010 honorary doctorate in music from Yale, are literally too numerous to mention.

In 1968, when Franklin was 26 with the first string of early hits to her credit, TIME Magazine featured her on its cover under a banner that read, in all capital letters, “The Sound of Soul.”

Father knew best

One of five children, Franklin was born in Memphis, but at the age of 6 moved with her family to a large, tree-shaded house not far from Detroit’s East Side, in the same neighborhood as Diana Ross and Smokey Robinson.

Her mother Barbara left at about that time, then died four years later. Aretha’s father, the Rev. C. L. (for Clarence LaVaughn) Franklin, was the fiery preacher of Detroit’s 4,500-member New Bethel Baptist Church — the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was a family friend — and it was Aretha’s father who steered the shy girl through her first gospel recording when she was 14 and later oversaw her transition into a soul singer.

Tragedy struck, however, with Rev. Franklin’s 1979 shooting during a burglary at his home that left him in an irreversible coma. Stunned by the incident, Aretha began an almost weekly pilgrimage from Los Angeles back to Detroit, and in 1982 finally bought the house she occupied for the rest of her life.

During her father’s years of unconsciousness (he died in 1984, as a final result of the shooting), “she spent over a half million dollars on him, $1,500 a week just for nurses,” said her sister Erma. “But she still can’t talk about it, not even with her own family.”

The move from L.A. back to Detroit was followed by a divorce from her second husband, actor Glynn Turman after nearly six years of marriage. Her first marriage, to Ted White, lasted from 1961 until their divorce in 1969. In all, she had four sons: Clarence, Jr., born when Franklin was 14; Edward (“Eddie”), born a year later, Ted White, Jr., born 1964; and Kecalf, born 1970 and whose father is Ken Cunningham.

Eddie Franklin, then 52, was the victim of a physical attack in 2010 at a Detroit gas station that required him to undergo surgery.

Another setback took place in 1983, when during a latenight flight home from Atlanta the small plane Franklin was on “did one of those dipsy-doodles” in midair and shocked the singer into a sudden fear of flying, she told PEOPLE. The all-but-paralyzing aerophobia, which remained a lifelong problem, led to a string of canceled or postponed projects, including a starring role in a stage bio of Mahalia Jackson and the lead in a Broadway musical about Bessie Smith.

And yet, despite her troubles, as Rolling Stone has said, “Aretha Franklin is not only the definitive female soul singer of the ’60s, she’s also one of the most influential and important voices in pop history.”

Aretha Franklin’s funeral will be held Aug. 31 in her hometown of Detroit.

The late singer’s publicist, Gwendolyn Quinn, said Friday that the funeral, to be held at Greater Grace Temple, is limited to the Queen of Soul’s family and friends.

Public viewings will take place Aug. 28-29 at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Franklin will be entombed at Woodlawn Cemetery in Detroit, along with her father Rev. C.L. Franklin; sisters Carolyn Franklin and Erma Franklin; brother Cecil Franklin; and nephew Thomas Garrett.

Read More About: ,