The Queen Of Soul Aretha Franklin Has Passed Away At The Age Of 76

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The Queen Of Soul has died this morning (August 16) at her Detroit, Michigan home. Aretha Franklin’s powerful voice, timeless songwriting, and ability to carry Rhythm & Blues music from its sound in the 1960s into the decades that followed made her a legend. The 76-year-old had been battling undisclosed health issues for more than a year. In recent weeks, it was reported that Aretha’s weight had dropped to 85 pounds. Throughout this week, the gravely ill Franklin was surrounded by family and loved ones.

Franklin’s career began in the mid-1950s, singing Gospel and church music. At the top of the 1960s, she started gaining chart success. However, it was 1967’s I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You) that propelled Aretha to stardom. “Respect” would go to #1, following the LP’s title track. Twenty years later, Franklin reached the top of the Hot 100 again, thanks to George Michael duet, “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me).” With more than 30 years of success, Aretha is perhaps best remembered for assertive relationship songs such as the aforementioned “Respect,” “Think,” and “Chain Of Fools.” Ballads such as “I Say A Little Prayer” and “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman” are also key hits in her extensive catalog. Franklin sold more than 75 million records during her life, in addition to winning 18 Grammy Awards in the 40 years between 1968 and 2008. Notably, Franklin was the first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame.

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Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Aretha Franklin was a crucial component in Southern Soul and the Muscle Shoals sound (working extensively at FAME Studios). At a time when many white Rock & Roll acts had taken Black artists’ songs, Franklin made unique and distinctly R&B renditions of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” The Band’s “The Weight,” and The Beatles’ “Let It Be,” among others.

Although born in the South (and forever associated with the region’s sound), Aretha was mostly raised in Detroit, Michigan, where she had been living at the time of her passing. The likes of Mahalia Jackson mentored Franklin at a young age. Dropping out from high school following her mother’s death, the teenage Franklin would eventually tour with groups including Sam Cooke’s Soul Stirrers.

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As an act on Columbia Records (despite interest from Sam Cooke’s RCA and Berry Gordy’s Tamla imprint), Franklin transitioned from Gospel to Pop in 1964. Making chart appearances, it was after a 1967 move to Atlantic Records that the Queen Of Soul eventually rose to her crown. During this smash success, Franklin was honored by Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and appeared on a 1968 cover of Time magazine. Her demanding hits may have been written for romantic relationships, but the songs like “Respect” and “Think” also became sound beds in the Civil Rights movement.

That transition lasted for decades. Franklin released more than 40 albums, working until recent years. She enjoyed a career renaissance in the 1980s, crafting newer sounds with her unmistakable voice. She also made a memorable appearance in 1980’s Blues Brothers musical, and later, its sequel.

In Hip-Hop, notably, Aretha’s “One Step Ahead” was a key part of Ayatollah’s production for early Mos Def hit, “Ms. Fat Booty.” Both “Think” and “Respect” were woven into 3rd Bass’ “The Gas Face.” “Rock Steady” was prominently used by Public Enemy, EPMD, and Prince. “Save Me” was also an element in Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth’s “The Creator.” Kanye West, De La Soul, Slum Village, and others also have reworked parts of Franklin’s catalog.

Ambrosia For Heads extends condolences to the family and fans of Aretha Franklin.