Aretha Franklin, whose gospel-rooted singing and bluesy yet expansive delivery earned her the title “the Queen of Soul,” died on Thursday morning (August 16) in her Detroit, Michigan, home at the age of 76.
Franklin died at 9:50 a.m., surrounded by family and friends, according to a statement on behalf of Franklin’s family from her longtime publicist Gwendolyn Quinn.
The “official cause of death was due to advanced pancreatic cancer of the neuroendocrine type, which was confirmed by Franklin’s oncologist, Dr. Philip Phillips of Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit,” the family statement said.
The legendary singer was diagnosed with cancer in 2010 and announced last year she was retiring from music.
Tributes and tears flooded in Thursday after news of her death broke.
“Aretha helped define the American experience,” former President Barack Obama said in a statement.
“In her voice, we could feel our history, all of it and in every shade — our power and our pain, our darkness and our light, our quest for redemption and our hard-won respect. May the Queen of Soul rest in eternal peace.”
Franklin’s fans paid tribute with flowers and a crown left on her Hollywood Walk of Fame star in Los Angeles.
Her death comes three days after reports surfaced that the singer was in hospice care.
“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,” Franklin’s family said.
“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 singer had been reported to be in failing health for years and appeared frail in recent photos, but she kept her struggles private.
In February 2017, Franklin announced she would stop touring, but she continued to book concerts. Earlier this year, she canceled a pair of performances, including at the New Orleans Jazz Fest, on doctor’s orders, according to Rolling Stone.
The singer’s final public performance was last November, when she sang at an Elton John AIDS Foundation gala in New York.
Franklin won 18 Grammys, and had 17 Top Ten US chart hits over a music career spanning seven decades.
Born in Memphis to a gospel singer/pianist and a celebrated Baptist preacher, Franklin was tutored from an early age by such gospel stars as Mahalia Jackson and Clara Ward.
She struggled to find fame in the early years, with record label Columbia unsure how to frame her impressively powerful voice.
After moving to Atlantic Records in 1966 she broke through, and released some of her most iconic songs like Respect soon after the switch.
By 1968 she was renowned throughout America and Europe as “Lady Soul” – a symbol of black pride who appeared on the cover of Time and was given an award by Martin Luther King.
She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W Bush in 2005, when she was saluted for “capturing the hearts of millions of Americans”.
Ten years later she reduced President Barack Obama to tears when she sang (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman at a Kennedy Center Honours ceremony, having previously performed at his inauguration.