The Oasis Reporters
August 16, 2018
The African American community would best remember Aretha Franklin for her soulful belting of the song, “Precious Lord” at the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. Before then, she had become a well-known figure of black empowerment in the Civil Rights Movement of the time.
As a national icon, she sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the Democratic National Convention, and the stirrings for Obama as a keynote speaker had been laid.
Aretha Franklin had a chequered history, from dropping out of high school, becoming a single mother of two boys before her 16th birthday and striking out for New York City before age 20 where she was soon signed to Columbia Records.
Aretha Franklin — the “Queen of Soul” whose rich gospel voice took her from her preacher father’s church choir to the top of the Billboards and center stage at three presidential inaugurations — died Thursday, August 16, 2018.
She was 76 and had been suffering from advanced pancreatic cancer, her publicist told the Associated Press.
Aretha Franklin passed away at 9:50 a.m. at her home in Detroit.
Franklin was one of the most celebrated women in American music history, wooing fans across several generations with hits such as “Respect,” “Freeway of Love” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” garnering 18 Grammys and 26 additional nominations along the way.
“Music changes,” she once said. “And I’m gonna change right along with it.”
The larger-than-life R&B star, born in Memphis in 1942, was considered a child prodigy. She started out singing in her father’s Baptist church in Detroit, where she moved with her family as a young girl, around age 12.
She learned to play piano at a young age and saw that ability, combined with songwriting and arranging, an important part of her music-making.
“If I’m writing and I’m producing and singing, too, you get more of me that way, rather than having four or five different people working on one song,” Franklin told The Detroit News in 2003.
Already a mom of two boys by age 16, Franklin dropped out of high school and struck out for New York City before age 20. She was soon signed to Columbia Records where she released her first album, “Aretha,” in 1961.
In the next decade, she churned out hits including “Respect” and “A Natural Woman.”
Asked whether she felt in the ’60s that she was changing the landscape of pop music, Franklin said in a 2004 interview, “Somewhat, certainly with ‘Respect,’ that was a battle cry for freedom and many people of many ethnicities took pride in that word. It was meaningful to all of us.”
But her most important work occurred outside the recording studio — for the civil-rights movement.
She also performed at three Democratic presidential inaugurations over the years — for Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
“Being the ‘Queen’ is not all about singing, and being a diva is not all about singing,’’ said Franklin, well-known for her extravagant furs and other personal excesses. “It has much to do with your service to people. And your social contributions to your community and your civic contributions as well.”
By 1972, she churned out the best-selling gospel album of all time, “Amazing Grace.”
Franklin preferred to travel by bus, following the death of Otis Redding in a 1967 plane crash and a tumultuous flight to Detroit in 1982 that left her with a fear of flying.
She said the bus was a more comfortable option.
“You can pull over, go to Red Lobster,” she said. “You can’t pull over at 35,000 feet.”
But in the years after, Franklin, who went on to have two more sons, struggled to retain her stature at the top of the charts.
In 1980, she agreed to a cameo appearance in the John Belushi-Dan Aykroyd flick “The Blues Brothers” — and soon she was on the radar of a whole new young audience.
Franklin recorded the wildly popular “Freeway of Love” in 1985, and two years later, became the first female artist to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
But her over-the-top life — during which she battled obesity, the bottle and smoking, suffered through two failed marriages and reportedly endured a 2010 bout with pancreatic cancer — took its toll.
Franklin announced in 2017 that she was retiring from touring.
Her health began seriously failing a few years ago, and by Monday, a source close to her told TMZ she had days to live. The once hefty belter was down to 86 pounds.
Franklin’s last public performance was in New York City in November, at an Elton John Aids Foundation event. A few months after that, it was announced that Jennifer Hudson would be portraying Franklin in a new biopic — with the younger singer-actress handpicked by the ailing star herself.
Abdul “Duke” Fakir, an original member of the Detroit soul group the Four Tops, told The Associated Press on Monday that he last spoke to Franklin by phone a week ago.
“She was telling me she rides around the city every now and then — she talks about how beautiful it is again,” Fakir said. “We were reminiscing about how blessed we were — only a couple two of us are around from that era. We were just kind of reminiscing about the good times we had.
“She talked about this great, big special she was going to have in New York, with all her great friends performing. It made me feel good as well — she was still hoping and wishing and dreaming as we do in this business.
Aretha Franklin marks the end of a glorious era and by an amazing coincidence, dies on same day as Elvis Presley and Babe Ruth
The Queen of soul died of a heart attack at age 42, exactly 41 years after the King, Elvis Presley’s 1977 passing and 70 years after the Sultan in 1948 of esophageal cancer at 53.
Additional reporting by Kate Sheehy for PageSix.