Aretha Franklin, the R&B singer celebrated as the Queen of Soul who rose to fame in the 1960s with hits like “Respect” and “(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman,” died Thursday in Detroit at the age of 76.
Franklin’s publicist confirmed the news to the Associated Press on Thursday morning — 41 years to the day that Elvis Presley, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, died in 1977 at age 43.
Franklin, who has long battled diabetes and other physical ailments, announced in February 2017 that she planned to give up touring. “I am retiring this year,” Franklin told WDIV Local 4 in Detroit. “I will be recording, but this will be my last year in concert. This is it.”
During her career, Franklin won 18 Grammys, including a lifetime achievement award in 1994. She was also the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Born in 1942 in Tennessee to an itinerant preacher and his wife, Franklin moved with her family to Detroit when she was 5. Before long, she began singing in the gospel choir of the city’s New Bethel Baptist Church where her father was a pastor — and also taught herself to play piano by ear.
She began performing in her father’s caravan gospel tours before switching to pop music at age 18. In 1961, she released her first secular album and had her first Billboard 100 hit, “Won’t Be Long.”
After jumping from Columbia Records to Atlantic in 1967, she had her first major crossover hit with “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)” — one in a string of R&B and pop hits that would include classics like “Think,” “I Say a Little Prayer” and “Baby I Love You.”
She continued recording and performing for the next several decades, scoring hits in a wide range of styles. In 1998 alone, she sang the Lauryn Hill-produced ballad “A Rose Is Still a Rose” as well as the Puccini operatic aria “Nessun Dorma” at the Grammy Awards (where she stepped in for an ailing Luciano Pavarotti).
In 2009, she memorably performed “My Country Tis of Thee” at the first inauguration of President Barack Obama — and won as much acclaim for her elaborate hat as for her vocal performance.