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Aretha Franklin, ‘Queen of Soul,’ has died

by Susan Olasky
Posted 8/16/18, 12:33 pm

The “Queen of Soul,” Aretha Franklin, died Thursday from pancreatic cancer. She was 76.

Franklin did not have an easy life growing up. She bore her first son when she was 12 and had her second son two years later. Her father, C.L. Franklin, was a civil rights leader and the flamboyant pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit. Her mother, Barbara, left home when Aretha was 7 and died three years later. Young Aretha learned to sing in church. The Franklin home was a stopping point for singers and civil rights activists, including Martin Luther King Jr. While still a teen, Franklin toured with her father and King and sang at King’s funeral in 1968.

In 1962, at age 18, Franklin decided to pursue a career in secular music and signed a contract with Columbia Records. She later switched to Atlantic Records, where she recorded hit after hit, including “Respect,” “Chain of Fools,” “Think,” and “A Natural Woman.” Hollywood embraced Franklin’s music: “Think” was part of a memorable scene in The Blues Brothers (see video clip below) and “A Natural Woman” was highlighted in The Big Chill. Franklin occasionally returned to music reflecting her church roots. Her album Amazing Grace, recorded in 1972, became one of the best-selling gospel records of all time.

Franklin received many honors. In 1987, she became the first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. In 2005, President George W. Bush presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for “her lifetime of achievement and for helping to shape our nation's artistic and cultural heritage.” In 2009, she sang at President Barack Obama’s first inaugural.

Married and divorced twice, Franklin gave birth to two more sons after her teenage years. All four survive her. As word of her worsening condition spread, music greats posted tributes and came to her Detroit area home. “She was truly one of a kind,” said music executive Clive Davis, one of Franklin’s producers and a longtime friend. “She was more than the Queen of Soul. She was a national treasure to be cherished by every generation throughout the world.”

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Susan Olasky

Susan is WORLD’s story coach and has authored eight historical novels for children. Susan and her husband, Marvin, live in Austin, Texas. Follow Susan on Twitter @susanolasky.

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