One of the towering figures in popular music, Aretha Franklin, has passed away at the age of 76 with her family by her bedside.

By Daniel Herborn

Posted on August 17, 2018

Franklin had sold more than 75 million records and recorded 20 number 1 singles on the US R&B chart, but straight facts and figures can never accurately convey the immense influence she had a musician and icon.

“American history wells up when Aretha sings,” Barack Obama after she performed one of her defining songs, ‘(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman’ at the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors. “Nobody embodies more fully the connection between the African-American spiritual, the blues, R&B, rock’n’roll – the way that hardship and sorrow were transformed into something full of beauty and vitality and hope.”

Frankin passed away on the morning of 16 August in her Detroit home. She had been battling pancreatic cancer for some time.

A statement by her family expressed their sorrow at her death. “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,” it read.

“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.”

Tributes from far and wide for the ‘Queen of Soul’

A singer of jaw-dropping power and an intuitive, gifted interpreter of song, Franklin became the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Many of her hit songs, including ‘Respect’, ‘Think’, ‘Chain of Fools’, ‘I Say a Little Prayer’ and ‘Spanish Harlem’ are deeply etched into the popular imagination.

Aged just 18, she was annointed the ‘Sound of Soul’ by TIME magazine, but soon found another moniker that befitted her self-confidence and regal bearing: the Queen of Soul.

Musicians from across genres and generations took to social media to express the influence Franklin had on them.

“She will be missed but the memory of her greatness and a fine human being will live with us forever,” Sir Paul Macartney wrote.

“You are a legend and your soul will never be forgotten,” wrote Lady Gaga.

Rappers Gucci Mane and Missy Elliott, pop divas Christina Aguilera and Mariah Carey, critically adored indie rockers Spoon, R&B royalty Maxwell and Usher, crooner Tony Bennett, Britpop tunesmith Liam Gallagher and piano balladeer Elton John were among scores of musicians expressing their gratitude for her music and sadness at her passing.

I hope the angels are being “as good to you as you were to us.”

A post shared by Brian Fallon (@thebrianfallon) on

Performing in Berlin, Beach Boys icon Brian Wilson dedicated his show to her.

Aretha Franklin, an icon of civil rights

Always more than a musician, Franklin was also remembered as a champion of the civil rights movement and a proud black woman.

Her signature song ‘Respect’ was an anthem of empowerment and became deeply entwined with the radical social change along racial and gender lines that was happening in the US.

Writing in The New York Times, Wesley Morris wrote that Franklin’s performance of the song was transformative. The original version, by Otis Redding, had been sung as a plea Morris wrote but “Ms. Franklin turned the plea into the most empowering popular recording ever made.”

She was close with the Reverend Jesse Jackson and Martin Luther King Jr. and toured with King as a teenage musical prodigy. Later, she would perform at his funeral. She played fundraisers for civil rights causes, gave activists a place to stay and was a source of counsel and support for the movement.

She also risked her reputation and offered to post bail for radical Black Power activist Angela Davis who had been arrested in connection with a prison escape. At the time, Davis was being condemned as a “dangerous terrorist” by President Richard Nixon but she is now seen as a hero of social justice.

Political leaders including former Vice-President Joe Biden and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote of Franklin’s personal influence on them.

“She deserves not only our RESPECT but also our lasting gratitude for opening our eyes, ears and hearts. Rest in eternal peace, my friend,” Clinton wrote.

The American Civil Liberties Union also praised Franklin for providing inspiration to civil rights advocates. “Aretha Franklin provided the civil rights movement with a powerful voice — and financial support — and made sure Black women wouldn’t be ignored,” it wrote on Twitter.

“Today we say goodbye to a lifelong champion for racial justice.”

Philanthropist Melinda Gates wrote: “She was an icon who used her voice to encourage us to raise our own.”