World mourns the loss of one of the all-time musical greats to pancreatic cancer
Aretha Louise Franklin, AKA The Queen Of Soul, has died at the age of 76, after suffering from pancreatic cancer for some time. Without doubt a musical icon whose career spanned over 60 years, she was also widely acknowledged as a figurehead of both the Civil Rights and feminist movements.
Born in Memphis, Tennessee on 25 March 1942, Aretha Franklin was the daughter of a Baptist minister father (CL Franklin) and a gospel-singing mother (Barbara Franklin), so it was no surprise that she was singing and playing piano in church from the tender age of six. By that time her father held a ministry in Detroit, and his church became a centre for gospel music, with the result that a young Aretha met musicians such as Sam Cooke and Smokey Robinson.
By the age of 16, she had already given birth to the first two of the four sons by whom she is survived, but she didn't let that stop her recording her first album Songs Of Faith, aged just 14. After turning down offers from both Motown and RCA, she signed to Columbia, and in 1960 she scored her first hit on the R&B charts with Today I Sing The Blues. More hits - Rock-A-Bye Your Baby and The Shoop Shoop Song (It's In His Kiss) - followed in the first half of the decade, but unhappy with the pop direction in which Columbia were pushing her, she moved to Atlantic Records in 1966, and it was here she would release the many classic 60s soul hits for which she is best loved, including Think, Chain Of Fools, I Say A Little Prayer and her versions of Otis Redding's Respect and Carole King's (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.
Changing musical tastes, problems in her personal life and a phobia of flying mean that her career took something of a downturn in the 70s, but she never stopped recording and touring, and an appearance in the cult 1980 film The Blues Brothers, plus a new contract with Arista, put her well and truly back on the map. She went on to score another string of hits in the 80s, such as Who's Zoomin' Who, Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves (with The Eurythmics) and I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) (with George Michael).
Always musically versatile, over the years Franklin put her own musical stamp on tracks as diverse as The Rolling Stones' Satisfaction and Jumping Jack Flash, The Beatles' Eleanor Rigby, devotional classics such as Amazing Grace and Adele's Rolling In The Deep, and there were even forays into disco (with the 1979 album La Diva) and house (her 1994 cover of C&C Music Factory's A Deeper Love, which reached No 5 on the UK singles chart).
Her many accomplishments included:
• 20 Top 10 albums
• 12 million-selling singles
• Selling over 75 million records worldwide
• 18 Grammy awards (including the Lifetime Achievement award in 1987)
• The first woman to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
• The second African-American woman ever to feature on the cover of Time magazine
• Singing at the funeral of Martin Luther King in 1968
• Singing at the inauguration ceremonies of US presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama
• Having an asteroid (249516 Aretha) named after her in 2014
• Being voted the greatest singer of all time by Rolling Stone magazine
Unsurprisingly, social media today was awash with tributes, with everyone from Paul McCartney to Plastician honouring her memory. Among the most poignant tweets came from Barack Obama, who posted: "Aretha helped define the American experience. 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."
1968 pic: Public Domain 2007 pic: Ryan Arrowsmith/Flickr