Aretha Franklin, the music icon, legendary singer and “Queen of Soul” loved by millions whose history-making career spanned six decades, died on Thursday, her longtime publicist announced. She was 76.
She influenced generations of female singers with unforgettable hits including “Respect” (1967), “Natural Woman” (1968) and “I Say a Little Prayer” (1968). She passed away at home in Detroit from advanced pancreatic cancer.
The multiple Grammy winner cemented her place in US music history with a powerful, bell-clear voice that stretched over four octaves. In a career crossing generations, her hits spanned soul and R&B, to gospel and pop.
Franklin passed away at 9:50 am (1350 GMT) surrounded by her family and loved ones, her family said in a statement issued by her publicist.
“It is with deep and profound sadness that we announce the passing of Aretha Louise Franklin, the Queen of Soul,” the statement said.
“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.
Franklin — who was widely known by only her first name, in true diva style — rose from singing gospel in her father’s church to regularly topping rhythm and blues and pop charts in the 1960s and 1970s
“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.”
Funeral arrangements would be announced in the coming days, the family added, thanking fans around the world for their “incredible outpouring of love” since it first emerged earlier this week that she was gravely ill.
“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 18-time Grammy award winner inspired multiple singers during her five-decade career from pop diva Mariah Carey and the late Whitney Houston, to Alicia Keys, Beyonce, Mary J. Blige and the late Amy Winehouse.
The Recording Academy called Franklin “an incomparable artist” and “one of the most profound voices in music” whose “distinctive sound, unforgettable recordings, and giving spirit will continue to be celebrated worldwide.”
In 1987, she became the first woman ever inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2010, Rolling Stone magazine put her at the top of its list of the 100 greatest singers of all time, male or female.
She sang at the inaugurations of presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, singing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” at the investiture of the country’s first African-American head of state.
US President Donald Trump paid tribute to Franklin on Twitter as “a great woman, with a wonderful gift from God, her voice. She will be missed!””
Clinton and his wife, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, on Thursday hailed her as “one of America’s greatest national treasures.”
“For more than 50 years, she stirred our souls. She was elegant, graceful, and utterly uncompromising in her artistry,” the former first couple said.
Singers and musicians quickly flooded social media in mourning her passing, which came on the same day that fellow US music giant Elvis Presley died at his home in Memphis, the city where Franklin was born, 41 years ago.
Paul McCartney called Franklin an inspiration and “the Queen of our souls.”
“She will be missed but the memory of her greatness as a musician and a fine human being will live with us forever,” he tweeted.
“I’m sitting in prayer for the wonderful golden spirit Aretha Franklin,” wrote Diana Ross.
Singer Annie Lennox called Franklin “simply peerless.”
“She has reigned supreme, and will always be held in the highest firmament of stars as the most exceptional vocalist, performer and recording artist the world has ever been privileged to witness,” Lennox tweeted.
“Salute to the Queen. The greatest vocalist I’ve ever known,” tweeted John Legend.
Franklin — who was widely known by only her first name, in true diva style — rose from singing gospel in her father’s church to regularly topping rhythm and blues and pop charts in the 1960s and 1970s.
Other than “Respect,” her powerful cover of the Otis Redding tune that became a feminist anthem and her calling card, Franklin had dozens of Top 40 singles, according to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Other hits include “Day Dreaming” (1972), “Jump to It” (1982), “Freeway of Love” (1985), and “A Rose Is Still A Rose” (1998). A 1986 duet with George Michael, “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me),” hit number one in several countries.
Franklin’s declining health was first disclosed on the Showbiz 411 website late Sunday by Roger Friedman, a reporter and family friend.
The Detroit News later reported that she was in hospice care, as artists from across the musical spectrum offered well wishes to the singer who lived in Detroit — the Motor City, home of Motown — most of her life.
In 2005, Franklin was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the highest award for an American civilian — by then-president George W. Bush.
In 2010, she suffered serious health problems, but continued to perform until late last year, singing last in November 2017 for the Elton John AIDS Foundation in New York. That same year, Detroit named a street after her.