Grammy award-winning artist Aretha Franklin has died. The singer known as the Queen of Soul was one of the most celebrated artists in music and left an indelible impression on a variety of genres. Aretha Franklin’s impact on music is almost impossible to measure.
Born in Tennessee in 1942, her talent as a mostly self-taught pianist and powerful singer was apparent from a very early age. She toured as a child in a traveling gospel revival show featuring her father, the Reverend C-L Franklin. They relocated to Detroit, which Aretha Franklin always called home, and her earliest recordings were made at her father’s church. In a 1999 interview on the public radio show Fresh Air, Franklin remembered traveling through the Deep South to sing with her father and discovering just how deep racism ran in America during the 1960s. “It certainly was not what I was used to or accustomed to in Detroit,” said Franklin. “There were times that we were asked to go to the back of the restaurant – say — or we couldn’t use the bathrooms. We got information that Gulf, you could use the bathrooms there. And we didn’t buy gas where we could not use the bathrooms. So we went to Gulf a lot, I must tell you.” By then, Franklin had segued into pop music, and R-and-B. She’d also developed a reputation for being a bit difficult to work with.
Broadcaster and current WDET music host Jay Butler booked her for a show when both were in Tennessee. But it was canceled because of a lack of ticket sales. A year or so later, he and Franklin were both in Detroit and Butler had her on his radio show, beginning a relationship that lasted the rest of the Queen of Soul’s life. Butler says Franklin was extremely gifted and extremely demanding. “She was an exceptionally talented person so her personality reflected somewhat of a diva attitude,” says Butler. “Because they’re very meticulous about their work. They wanted to have control — more control of their work. How it sounds is important.” Franklin began producing a chain of hits including the song “Respect,” which reached number one on the charts in 1967 and earned Franklin her first two Grammy Awards.
Her success continued into the 1970’s, though it began to fade as disco music came to dominate the charts and Franklin herself struggled with some personal issues. A cameo in the 1980 Blues Brothers movie introduced her to a new generation of fans and she again became pop music gold, producing hits like “Freeway of Love.” The accolades poured in. Franklin became the first female singer inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She also earned 18 Grammy Awards. She was anointed as a kind of national treasure, having performed at important historical events, ranging from the funeral of Doctor Martin Luther King Junior to the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Franklin had also fought health issues that she was reluctant to describe publicly. She abruptly cancelled several shows and by last year, she announced she was retiring, saying she felt satisfied with her career but did not plan to simply “sit and do nothing.” WDET’s Jay Butler says he ran into Franklin at a party and the Queen of Soul’s health was not a topic for discussion. “The sickness had started at that time though. She had lost weight. But never anything about ‘I’m gonna retire’ or ‘I’m through.’ Because her son was recording. She was working on a new album.” In recent days, however, Franklin had reportedly been in hospice care in Detroit.
Aretha Franklin was 76 years old.