Aretha Franklin, whose impassioned, riveting voice made her a titan of American music, has died, her niece, Sabrina Owens, confirmed to the Free Press. She was 76.
She died at 9:50 a.m. (1:50 p.m GMT) surrounded by family, at her home in Detroit.
A family statement released by her publicist Gwendolyn Quinn said “Franklin’s official cause of death was due to advance pancreatic cancer of the neuroendocrine type, which was confirmed by Franklin’s oncologist, Dr. Philip Phillips of Karmanos Cancer Institute” in Detroit.
The family added: “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.”
Franklin was the loftiest name in the rich history of Detroit music and one of the transcendent cultural figures of the 20th Century. Raised on an eclectic musical diet of gospel, R&B, classical and jazz, she blossomed out of her father’s Detroit church to become the most distinguished black female artist of all time, breaking boundaries while placing nearly 100 hits on Billboard’s R&B chart — 20 of them reaching No. 1.
Her death follows several years of painstakingly concealed medical issues, which led to regular show cancellations and extended absences from the public eye.
Visibly feeble but still summoning magic from her voice, Franklin played her final Detroit show in June 2017, an emotion-packed concert for thousands at an outdoor festival downtown.
She ended the performance with a then-cryptic appeal to the hometown crowd: “Please keep me in your prayers.”
Franklin’s voice was a singular force, earning her a multitude of laurels through the decades, including 18 Grammy Awards, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and honorary doctorates from a host of institutions. In 1987, she became the first female artist inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and seven years later, at age 52, the youngest recipient of a Kennedy Center Honor.
Franklin topped Rolling Stone magazine’s 100 Greatest Singers of All Time list, and her signature hit, “Respect,” ranked No. 4 on “Songs of the Century,” a 1999 project by the National Endowment for the Arts. She performed at the inaugurations of U.S. presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, garnering global attention at the latter for her big felt hat with its crystal-studded bow — a piece of wardrobe now in the Smithsonian Institution.
But just as important is Franklin’s broader social impact: She embodied American black culture, emphatically and without apology, and through sheer force of talent, thrust it onto the global stage.
Franklin revolutionized black music and the way it was absorbed and perceived, helping create a world where we take for granted that a Beyoncé can reign atop mainstream popular culture.
Detroit Free Press