Aretha Franklin dies, aged 76

16 August 2018, 15:07 | Updated: 6 October 2023, 10:54

Aretha Franklin
Picture: Getty

Gospel legend Aretha Franklin has passed away aged 76, after being reported gravely ill. Her family gathered around her bedside shortly before she died.

Reports of Franklin’s ill health circulated in the early hours of Monday morning.

Recent years have seen Aretha Franklin battle various health concerns, including the removal of a tumour in 2011. She was subject to a fake Twitter storm last year when a tweet from an anonymous account announcing her death went viral.

Her final performance was in November 2017, at a concert in New York for the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

Her legacy will be one centred on her powerful and influential singing voice, which was nurtured in the gospel choirs of Tennessee. She learned to play the piano by ear, and gradually developed that incredible singing voice.

A demo she recorded at the age of 18 in 1960 was enough to get her a deal with Columbia Records, and that’s where her career began in earnest. Still, it wasn’t until 1967 that she first found true commercial success.

Her first top-ten single, ‘I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)’, opened the floodgates, with ‘Baby I Love You’ and ‘(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman’ following soon after. Franklin received her first Grammy in 1968.

Albums, chart-conquering singles, movie roles and acclaim followed for the next four decades. Highlights of her illustrious career included a scene-stealing turn as a waitress in The Blues Brothers, and stepping in to sing ‘Nessun Dorma’ after Luciano Pavarotti pulled out of the 1998 Grammys.

In 2009, Franklin sang at the inauguration of President Barack Obama. She also sang at the 2015 Kennedy Centre Honours ceremony, performing ‘(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman’ in front of Carole King, one of the honourees, who co-wrote the song.

Health problems dogged Franklin throughout her life. She was a notorious crash-dieter and a heavy smoker until she quit in 1992. Rumours of a case of pancreatic cancer emerged when she underwent surgery to have a tumour removed in 2010, and her later years saw several concerts cancelled due to health issues.

Franklin’s voice was declared a ‘natural resource’ of Michigan in 1985. She received the National Medal of Arts in 1999, inducted into countless Halls of Fame, and given the following endorsement by none other than Barack Obama: “American history wells up when Aretha sings.”